Atwater adopted a $43.9 million budget this week, which is a sign of the city’s slow crawl out of the red.
The City Council voted 3-1 on Monday to approve the budget, which has a $12.5 million general fund. Councilman Joe Rivero cast the dissenting vote and Councilman James Vineyard was absent.
The leaders, who have been in budget meetings for a couple of months, also approved cutting about 5 percent where possible from the initially proposed budget. That works out to a savings of about $123,000, according to Lakhwinder Deol, Atwater’s finance director.
The city’s general fund debt began to accumulate in 2008. Deol warned city leaders that the cure to its ailments is new revenue.
Councilman Brian Raymond said the city offers incentives to businesses that move into empty buildings. He said he’s pushing for more incentives for commercial construction. “The only way out of our deficit is to grow our way out of it,” he said Wednesday.
Raymond said the city has a history of borrowing from other funds to balance the budget, so he was satisfied that the practice was avoided his year. “It’s not perfect, but we borrowed no money to balance it,” he said. “To me, that’s a start.”
As in many cities in the state, revenue from the gas tax in Atwater have continued to trend downward as vehicles become more fuel-efficient. The city has taken hits to its coffers for other unforeseen needs, officials have said, and expenses continue to grow faster than new sources of tax dollars can be developed.
The city also is facing a $19 million pension debt, according to city staff.
Mayor Jim Price said leaders and the staff picked through the 2016-17 fiscal-year budget to find savings.
“This has been an extremely difficult process to continue to try to find these bits and pieces so we can get back to having a reserve and continue services and all that,” he said. “None of this is an easy process, believe me.”
This story has been edited from its original version to reflect a new title for a city employee.