Town budget balanced precariously on snowfall
That doesn’t sound like a far-out goal, but because of a general economic slump in the High Country, the town government expects to be about $500,000 short on spending by the end of 2002.
To balance next year’s budget –and to pay for services, such as plowing the streets and providing a police force – town employees won’t be getting any raises. And even with that controversial cut, there’s no guarantee the 2003 budget will stay balanced. In other words, no one can promise enough sales tax revenues will come in to support the spending, Avon Town Manager Bill Efting said at a public hearing on Avon’s budget Tuesday.
“There may be more cuts, more staffing cuts right off the bat next year,” Efting said. “We just don’t know.”
“The bottom line is snow isn’t it?” replied Councilman Buz Reynolds.
Though the session was reserved for residents to give their options about the budget, no members of the public showed up to talk about next year’s spending package.
The town has several sources of revenues, but a majority of its money comes from sales tax.
The Town Council did not dump any major municipal services, such snow-plowing or police protection, but it raised membership fees at the Avon Recreation Center and eliminated or reduced contributions to a number of valley nonprofit organizations.
The most controversial cut is the wage freeze for town employees. Some Town Council members say it will force them to vote against the budget, while all agree it’s not a cut the town can make again next year, when the financial picture may be just a gloomy.
“I think if we keep working on it we can find a way to give the staff raises,” Councilwoman Debbie Buckley said. “I’m still at the point where I’m going to vote against the budget because of this.”
Avon Finance Director Scott Wright said town personnel can handle a wage freeze for one year –but not any longer than that.
“We have included in the 2003 budget certain items that the staff feels are appropriate in balancing the 2003 budget, but these are not items we feel we can continue to sustain,” Wright said.
Even with those cuts, the approximately $12 million spending package is balanced precariously, Wright said.
“We reduced and cut expenditures down to a level that we’re faced with any additional cuts being levels of service cuts,” Wright said.
New developments, such as the Village at Avon shopping complex set to open next summer, will strain the town, making it more expensive to provide basic services like snowplows, street maintenance and police, Wright said.
“With the increased demand for municipal services we’re seeing, we need to take a close look at revenues – try to see what kind of additional revenues we can get, whether through transportation or other areas, like recreation,” Wright said.
“There are some things in the budget that allows us to balance,” he added, “but that we don’t feel we can continue to do.”
Expenses are far more certain that revenues, Wright said.
“We’re bound by law to remain within the level of appropriations, but with the levels of revenue there are always external influences, such as snow and the economy, that were really don’t have any control over,” he said.
That means, Councilman Mac McDevitt said, that even if the town earns what it expects to, the financial situation will be precarious.
“So it’s safe to say, if revenue sources come in as planned, council will have it’s work cut out for it,” McDevitt said.
For instance, the town hadn’t planned on being $500,000 in the hole Town Council put together the 2002 budget last winter.
“Last year at this time, we were projecting a slight deficit, but certainly not the deficit we’re faced with right now,” Wright said. “It’s always a guessing game as to what sales tax are going to do.”
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.