As much as it is attractive for many people to compare a city budget to their own household budget, there is one fundamental difference that was noted multiple times when the City Council met to adopt the budget for fiscal year 2024.
“If you budget it, you can spend it unless you don’t have it,” noted Mayor Joe Hardy. “If it’s not budgeted, you can’t spend it even if you get it.”
All of that translates to the fact that a city budget is inherently a process of estimates and wish lists.
The budget for the fiscal year appears, on the surface, to be about $8 million in the hole. But City Manager Taylour Tedder noted that this is because the city is very conservative in its estimates of future revenue and that revenues come in above estimates every year while projected expenses always come in under projections. He also noted that Boulder City is almost debt-free.
“Boulder City is a really interesting municipality because we operate on a cash basis,” he said to the council during the meeting on Tuesday, May 23. “We only have one loan on a water line and we can’t take on debt of more than $1 million without taking it to the voters.”
As noted in previous stories in the Boulder City Review, the city is ahead of schedule in paying off that single bond.
The general fund for FY’24 is projected to be nearly $47 million. Of that, the biggest cost, by far, is labor. More than $30 million is slated to be spent on public safety (police and fire budgeted at $16.8 million), public works ($7 million) and parks and recreation ($7 million).
In terms of other expenses, the city’s cost for insurance went up. The cost for insuring city utilities will increase by $62,000 and the cost of general risk management coverage will increase by a little over $83,000.
Looking at capital expenses, about $4 million is slated to be spent on items ranging from street repair ($1 million) to more than $200,000 to replace carts at city-owned golf courses to about $1.2 million to build a training tower for the fire department.
Multiple council members expressed discomfort with the seeming contradiction between the assertion that the Boulder City budget is balanced and what they see on paper.
Councilmember Sherri Jorgensen said, “The difference between expenses and revenue is significant and not in the direction I like to see myself.”
She thanked staff for explaining how the process worked and how it is “not like my checkbook at home or whatever we call it now because we don’t write checks.” She asked for a process and numbers that looked realistic both for herself and the general public. “It would be a little more comforting to know that we are not truly $8 million out,” she said.
Councilmember Steve Walton agreed.
“On paper, it appears as though we’re asked to approve a budget that is out of balance,” he said. “I understand that is not the case, but when I look at that, it gives me a moment of pause.”
He asked for a budget that shows on paper as being balanced in the future.
At the end of the meeting, when Tedder presented the list of city expenses for the month of April and asked if the council had questions, Hardy quipped, “We just want to know if we still have money in the bank.”
Tedder replied that when all city accounts were totaled, the balance was $164 million.
“Can you say that slowly?” Hardy replied. Tedder repeated the figure noting that it was a combination of several accounts.
Contact reporter Bill Evans at email@example.com or at 702-586-9401.