Tulare trims spending to balance city budget

(Rigo Moran)

City of Tulare cuts back on some expenditures to balance city budget for the coming 2024-25 fiscal year

TULARE – When the proposed budget for the city was presented to the city council during a recent work session, it showed a startling change from the previous versions: a significant shortfall in funding that created a deficit. Still, the council was able to come to a solution that was unanimously accepted.

At a Tulare City Council meeting on June 18, occurring after the work session, City Manager Marc Mondell explained that the city was able to overcome a $266,000 deficit by trimming spending and reappropriating certain funds.

“What we would do is go into the surplus reserve and cover that (initial) $266,000 deficit,” Mondell said. “That is what we talked about, but the council did not want to do that.”

Instead, the city council decided to do away with a $125,000 discretionary fund that had not been part of previous fiscal year budgets to eliminate a significant part of the shortfall. The sum made up about half of the $266,000 deficit. By removing these new funds from the current budget, the council was able to reduce the shortfall to approximately $141,000.

To further reduce the deficit, the council voted to reduce special district funds that staff had recommended be increased over the amount budgeted in previous years. By reducing these funds, the council was able to save the city some money.

“They each have a council special district fund at $2,500 per district they could use toward district improvements; we had recommended that they double that to $5,000 each. They cut that extra $2,500 each out of the budget,” Mondell said. The decision to halve the special district fund amount by an additional $12,500. That left a deficit of $128,500.

Rather than dip into the emergency reserve funds, the council decided to use money set aside in an unrestricted contingency fund that is in place to handle unexpected expenditures. This fund holds about $300,000 and staff assured the city council that using the funds to cover the deficit would not put the city in a financial bind.

“They agreed to use a portion of that contingency fund to wipe out the deficit. I think, when we are all said and done, we’ll have a surplus of maybe $7,000,” Mondell said.

During the work sessions leading up to the budget’s adoption, much discussion focused on funds that are reserved currently for the Inyo Trail Restoration Project, which is currently holding $500,000 but is still a ways from beginning work. Several council members suggested raiding that fund to cover the deficit, but ultimately, the existing contingency fund took the hit while keeping funding for the project in place in case the city is able to move forward in the next fiscal year.

Another thing that was discovered while getting the budget put together was an error that accidentally left out an expenditure for boys baseball and girls softball, which historically was provided to offset the cost of lighting the playing field. The council unanimously decided to restore the funding and provide a slight increase of $1,500.

Previously, this had been a $30,000 expenditure evenly split between the two. The $1,500 increase reflects rising costs and ensures that the two sports are able to practice and play under lighting.

The council also approved an increased allocation for travel from $2,500 to $5,000. This fund allows the council members to attend conferences and training sessions, which can quickly gobble up the previous amount of $2,500 and disadvantage opportunities for council members to gain insights and valuable skills that allow for better governance.

One of the few issues that received clear support from all of the council members was adding funding to the arts in Tulare.

“We had $50,000 from the city manager’s line item for the arts,” Mondell said. “They (council) decided that they wanted to have a separate line item for that,” Mondell said. Since the funds were already in the city manager’s allocation, moving them to a separate line item had no effect on the overall budget figures.

During the previous work sessions for the budget, each of the council members, the mayor and the vice-mayor expressed that it was a goal to be able to tell constituents the city was not going into a new fiscal year with a deficit. It took some hard decisions that primarily fell on opportunities the members would have to complete small projects in each district and a decision to siphon a significant portion of funds from the contingency fund to attain the goal of a balanced budget.

Overall, the council was able to come to an agreement and passed the budget unanimously on June 18.

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