Exeter approves balanced budget, expands services

Photo by Rigo Moran

Exeter City Council approves balanced budget for next two fiscal years, improves upon some city services despite increased spending and staff negotiations

EXETER – Despite inflating costs and ongoing salary negotiations with city employees, the city of Exeter has approved a balanced budget ahead of the next two years, allowing the city to keep core services in line along with some wiggle room to expand upon other ones.

Finance Director Eekhong Franco presented Exeter City Council with the city’s budget on June 25, which was approved and adopted with a unanimous vote the same day. With a general fund of $5,822,350, the city has successfully balanced the city’s projected revenues without tapping into the general fund reserves, according to the presentation.

“For the most part, it’s kind of business as usual. Of course, we have had to adjust for cost increases this year,” City Manager Adam Ennis said. “We have seen some decrease in sales tax but some gains in other areas like property tax. So the overall increase is covering increased costs.”

Exeter’s budget is planned biennially, and lays out the financial plans for fiscal years 2024/25 and 2025/26. This round, Exeter opted to keep a more conservative budget in order to continue building up their reserves, allowing the city more security while expenses continue to grow. Even with the increased expenses from inflating costs, the city was still able to add some services and improvements this year. Ennis noted one service the city has been investing in is improving the town’s water system, which it’s been working on for a while now.

Exeter’s water and sewer rates did increase this year, which the city is hoping to use to make a more reliable water system. The city created and approved a five-year plan in December 2019 to increase water and sewer in order to make these changes; the plan’s implementation started in 2020 and is set to end in 2025. According to Ennis, the most recent increase to water rates was in January.

“Now we should have a little more money for capital improvement projects on our systems’ future to help them improve their reliability and improve the systems overall,” Ennis said.

According to the staff report, the water and sewer funds are doing better than in past years. The rates have increased by about 14.5% for water and 17.5% for sewer per year over the last five years.

Ennis noted there is some uncertainty as far as how much money the city will spend on its employees for this year since they are still in the midst of contract negotiations with city staff. This was also mentioned during the city council meeting. Because of this, the city has accounted for extra spending in the budget until negotiations are complete.

“We also had increases in costs from negotiations and from the benefits of all the employees,” Ennis said. “We don’t have the final amount since negotiations are not completed yet.”

One of the other benefits the city is continuing to invest in is the city’s parks. Exeter increased development of the Park Master Plan in the budget this year by $150,000.  This is being paid for by remaining ARPA funding which must be spent by the end of 2025. Specific park projects and costs will be determined based on the completion of the park master plan.

Another improvement that the city chose to make in their parks and recreation spending is by investing in adult sports. The city has plans to start offering adult volleyball this summer. On top of that, the council chose to put $10,000 toward the Lion’s Club’s Firework show this year.

One service that the city needed to invest more into this year was animal control. Compared to previous years, the city has had to nearly triple their spending on animal control for this fiscal year in order to keep the same services available to the town.

As reported by The Sun-Gazette in December 2023, Visalia Animal Services, who contracts with Exeter to provide animal control in the town, increased its costs to $216,000 yearly after years of charging Exeter $75,000 yearly. Ennis explained that the city had to take the funding for animal control out of Measure P, which is a sales tax in Exeter, instead of the general fund this year to balance the budget. Still, he noted the city’s finances are still in good shape.

Start typing and press Enter to search