Atwater adopts a balanced spending plan

After gloomy year, no layoffs planned

vpatton@mercedsunstar.comJune 25, 2013 

— The Atwater City Council on Monday unanimously passed a balanced $39.1 million budget for fiscal year 2013-14 — a dramatic reversal from the doom-and-gloom scenarios the city faced less than a year ago.

Council members voted 5-0 to pass the budget, which anticipates revenues and transfers-in of $11.97 million to fund expenditures of $11.92 million. No employee layoffs were included in the budget.

Frank Pietro, Atwater's interim city manager and police chief, said he was very pleased about the balanced budget, particularly because the city was "four million dollars in the hole" when he took the helm in August.

Back then, the city was facing a fiscal crisis that had some wondering whether bankruptcy was on the horizon.

As of now, however, Pietro said things are definitely looking up for the city. Although the long-term prognosis is uncertain, city officials say they believe general fund revenue appears to be stable, and operating expenses appear sustainable, despite reduced funding from the state to local governments.

"Obviously it's due to all the employees who gave up a lot of concessions over the last few years to help us out," Pietro said. "We're on the road to recovery. We're not there yet, but we're on the road."

Mayor Joan Faul called the passing of the budget "an outstanding event" — and the first balanced budget the city's had in recent years.

Faul said the city's recent raising of utility and garbage rates played a role in getting revenue to equal expenses, and she credited city employees for taking up to 30 percent in wage cuts.

"You don't like to raise rates, but when you have a deficit, you can't do anything but raise the rates in order to to pay the bills," Faul said. "We all have made major sacrifices, and so has the community."

Faul also credited residents for passing Measure H. Voters passed the public safety sales tax measure by a margin of 67.1 percent in March. The tax will cost consumers an additional 5 cents for every $10 spent on taxable goods in Atwater.

Supporters of the tax predict it will generate between $1.3 million and $1.6 million a year for public safety.

Police and fire account for the largest slice of the total general fund budget at 66 percent. The city anticipates receiving a $342,000 COPS grant as a critical part of balancing the budget. The budget also assumes the use of more than $1 million in Measure H funding to support increased public safety costs, according to budget documents.

The 2013-14 budget provides funding for 79.5 employee positions. During the past five years, the city has eliminated 52.5 positions — roughly 40 percent of its workforce.

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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