Rising costs for almost everything and stagnant revenues makes some tough decisions by the four Carthage City Council members that make up the Council's Budget Ways and Means Committee.

Rising costs for almost everything and stagnant revenues makes some tough decisions by the four Carthage City Council members that make up the Council's Budget Ways and Means Committee.
Those four members, Chairman Jim Swatsenbarg and Council Members Ed Hardesty, Steve Leibbrand and Larry Chapin, will meet with City Administrator Tom Short and others in a public meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at the Carthage City Council Chambers to perfect the city's 2014-2015 budget.
That budget will likely include about $160,000 more in spending than revenues coming in, and dipping into the city's dwindling reserves to make up the difference.
City Administrator Tom Short has said for more than three years the city was using unappropriated fund balance money, the amount of money in the city's bank accounts at the end of the fiscal year, to supplement the city's income and maintain city services at their current levels.
Short said at Thursday's budget committee meeting that the unallocated reserve has been nearly spent and the city may have to start cutting services, or dipping deeper into its reserve money.
He said the 2014-2015 General Fund budget, which finances city spending on services to residents, calls a deficit of $162,316 on total revenues of $7,931,954 and spending of $8,094,270.
City department heads and the budget committee have already trimmed more than $700,000 from their original budget requests earlier this year.
The city council's policy for years has been to maintain a fund balance, or reserve, of 25 percent of the amount it spends in a year, as an emergency reserve, enough to run operations for three months in case of a dire emergency.
The city has been using its unallocated fund balance above the 25 percent level since 2010 to supplement revenues that dropped dramatically during the recession of 2008-2010 and have yet to fully recover to pre-2008 levels.
That fund balance got a boost when sales tax revenue jumped in the year after the May 22, 2011 Joplin tornado, but that only stretched the city's finances by about a year.
Short said the revenue estimates he prepared the proposed budget calls for revenue growth of 3.46 percent, or about $265,095. That number includes increased transfers and PILOT, or Payment in Lieu of Taxes, from Carthage Water & Electric Plant, of $131,114, something not included in CW&EP's proposed budget.
That issue includes a proposed city ordinance mandating the increased payments to the city from the utility and that the utility no longer charge for many of the services it provides to the city.
It won't be resolved until a private attorney, already hired by the city, gives his opinion on what the city can and cannot do under state law to mandate payments from the utility, and officials from the city and the utility meet to hammer out the details.
Total city spending, including the general fund and all other funds, will be approximately $11,194,000, with revenues from the half-cent capital improvement tax and quarter-cent fire safety sales tax supplementing the general fund's spending on building projects and fire department capital projects and operations.
Among the priority items in the 2015 budget are a new south Carthage fire station, to be built on land donated to the city in the Peachtree development south of the intersection of Hazel Street and Fir Road.
The city has just put out a request for architects to work on the project, which is anticipated to cost around $1 million.
Preference is also being given to enhancements to the parks, including implementing some of the improvements included in the Drury University Visioning Study conducted last fall.
One proposal is for new restrooms to be built at the heavily used Carter Park on the east side of town.
That total also includes the budget for the Municipal Golf Course of a little more than $780,000.
The Golf Course hasn't earned enough revenue to pay all of its bills since it was rebuilt in the early 2000s and receives annual supplements from the general fund of varying amounts depending on difference between the course's earnings and expenses.