— By CHRISTIN COYNE
WILLOW PARK – As the City of Willow Park attempts to deal with over-projected revenues and operational deficits in the budget, two employees were given notice Wednesday that their positions were cut.
The reduction in force affected two development services department employees, the code official and the development coordinator, and is the largest change in the amended budget, according to City Administrator Matt Shaffstall.
In a meeting following the workshop, the council authorized the mayor and city administrator to publish a request for qualifications to provide third-party planning and inspections services.
Until that process is completed, the city will use an interim third-party company to provide plan review and permitting services, according to Shaffstall.
Shaffstall proposed appointing the city’s fire marshal as interim building official until the city can decide if they want to go with a third party.
While property tax and sales tax revenue has been as much as expected, revenue from development fees has been much lower than expected with few projects in the pipeline, Shaffstall told the council. Revenue from permits and other fees is projected to be about $110,000 less than orinally budgeted.
The reduction in staff in that department is expected to help offset that.
Shaffstall estimated that the city could see about $80,000 annually in immediate savings by going with third-party plan review and permit services.
The process for plan reviews and inspections won’t change for the applicant, he said. Permit applications can still be dropped off at city hall, where an employee working in the courts department will take on some permit technician responsibilities part-time.
Next-day inspections will still be available, according to Shaffstall, adding that many cities, such as Hudson Oaks, use a third-party company.
The amended budget will be balanced, Shaffstall said of the proposed amended budget discussed by the city council in a workshop Tuesday.
During his examination of the budget in recent months, the city’s new administrator said he found that after removing many of the one-time transfers, there were structural deficits in the general fund and water and wastewater funds.
“They haven’t covered their own costs,” Shaffstall told the council.
Those operational deficits need to be addressed in the next budget, through things such as the fee schedule, according to Shaffstall.
Various things have contributed to the situation, Shaffstall said.
The water fund has carried the weight from other funds, such as covering the cost of all utility billing including for wastewater and solid waste and paid all public works employees, who also work on the roads.
Other budget issues being addressed include reducing employee comp time.
Even after the various cuts made in the amended budget, the projected operational deficits are expected to be $226,000 in the general fund, $281,000 in the water fund and $32,000 in the wastewater fund.
The amended budget is organized differently and contains more detail on line items.
The goal is to move towards more transparency on the budget so residents can see where money is being spent, Shaffstall said.
One of the other differences in the amended version is a $3,000 drive-through drop box for utility payments at city hall that was requested by residents, Shaffstall said.
A public hearing on the current budget amendment is scheduled for May 14.
In June, the city intends to hold a town hall meeting and invite the public to provide input on what they want to see in the 2013-14 budget, Shaffstall said.
In July, the city will have revenue estimates and hold council workshops on the preliminary budget before final adoption of the budget in late August or early September.
The city’s top goals for the upcoming budget will be to close the operational deficits and truly balance the budget, include merit-based performance pay for employees and specify a list of capital improvement projects the city will complete, Shaffstall said.
Most city employees have not had a wage increase in about two years and the new employee manual calls for merit-based raises and individual performance reviews, according to Shaffstall.
After prioritizing various types of capital improvement projects, such as roads or sewer projects, the city will include as many as they can afford in the budget, Shaffstall said.