By Reggie Ellis
After years of expanding expenditures the City of Exeter reduced the size of its budget for the first time this millennium at a special meeting on June 29.
The city began its 2004-2005 fiscal year on July 1 with a surplus of $7 million. The city has estimated it will bring in an additional $8 million in revenue, however, an $11,375,000 budget will dwindle the surplus to about $3 million for fiscal year 2005-2006.
The 2004-2005 budget is $2 million less than last year's record $13 million budget, but is still the second largest budget in the city's history. Infrastructure, facility, housing and street projects are the main reason for the $2 million difference. While many departments saw normal year-to-year increases, sewer, water, streets, parks, storm drain, HELP and HOME funds all saw significant decreases in spending.
Sewer spending is down $400,000. Last year the City of Exeter built another percolation pond at its wastewater treatment plant. After the water is treated, the effluence is stored in a basin where it slowly percolates into the ground recharging the groundwater.
Infrastructure spending is down $380,000. Public Works Director Felix Ortiz said the total amount was a grant from the state to upgrade its sewer system. The City added sewer lines on Second and Third streets. The project will allow packing houses on those streets to connect to the city's water system once they have used up their septic tanks.
Gas Tax spending is down almost $100,000. Gas Tax funds are earmarked for street improvement projects. Ortiz said the City caught up on slurry seals and chip seals of streets during the last fiscal year and did not have a need this year for as many projects.
Transportation spending is down $110,000. Ortiz said most of that money was used for the Belmont Road overlay project. Belmont was a notoriously bumpy road that had begun to experience increased traffic due to the residential development of the northside of the city.
Parks spending is down $110,000. Parks and Recreation Director Felix Ortiz said nearly all of that money was spent developing the park at the Park Place subdivision at the corner of Belmont Road and Glaze Avenue. Developer Chris Bitterlin donated the land for the park to the city but the city had pay for the installation of the sprinkler and drip irrigation systems, seeding of the soil and landscaping. The park, which is depressed below street level, will also be used as a storm drain basin, where water can be stored when excess rainfall overloads the system.
Storm Drain spending is down $250,000. That money was used to connect the park at Park Place to the city's storm gutters.
HOME spending is down $1.2 million. City Finance Director Sheri Hoover said assists low-income families to buy homes. The program is funded by federal grants. The largest difference in spending is the completion of the 2000 HOME grant, which was for $1.075 million. This fiscal year the city will continue the last year of its 2001 funding but did not have another HOME grant. The grants are on four to five year cycles.
HELP spending is down $200,000. The program helps eliminate blight by assisting homeowners to make needed improvements or repairs to their homes. The money is granted to the city and the current grant has been completed.
Vehicle License Fee funds increased from 180,262 to 350,000. VLF is the money paid back to cities and counties for car registration collection. Last year Gov. Gray Davis said he was ending the two-thirds backfill of the money making vehicle owners pay the total amount for the first time since 1998 to help state revenue cover record deficits. Following the recall election, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger repealed the increase and is asking cities and counties to pay a much smaller amount to help the state out of debt. City of Exeter normally receives about $500,000 from the VLF.
For the first time the City of Exeter hired an Assistant Chief of Police by promoting Lt. Paul Gomez. The move was made to help Chief of Police John Kunkel who has now taken on City Administrator and City Clerk duties. The Assistant Chief will make about $51,000.
Sewer Capital spending is up $158,000. The City will be spending $265,000 to line the sludge beds at the wastewater treatment plant. After the water is treated waste is stored in the sludge beds. The city must line the bottom of the area with cement to seal the soil off from contamination.