Hub City expects small GRT bump

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Anticipating a modest increase in revenues, the Belen City Council unanimously approved a preliminary 2014-15 fiscal year budget last week that would represent a 6.18 percent increase to the general fund.

Gross tax revenues are expected to increase about 12 percent in the 2014-15 fiscal year, which starts in July. The estimated general fund revenue is $5,675,200 to run the city of Belen.

The total revenues, which include the operating expenses and other funds, such as the city's fire protection fund, grants, lodger's tax and enterprise funds, are estimated to be $13,552,219 with $13,573,316 in expected expenditures.

City officials estimate they will spend about $5,380,200 for city operations and another $1,546,855 for capital projects.

The budget also reflects a total of $1,824,300 in water fund enterprise revenues, $1,392,00 in solid waste enterprise revenues and $1,202,500 in waste water enterprise funds.

As in most municipal budgets, public safety, which includes police and fire, will take the majority, 44 percent, of the general fund's expenses. Community services, such as streets and parks, will take 11 percent; and transfers and administration costs will take 8 percent each. The library and informational technology are both allocated 5 percent of the general fund, while planning and zoning, human resources, recreation, judicial, civilian personnel, legislative and the airport have 2 percent each of the pie.

The city's liability insurance takes the least, at 1 percent.

Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova said the city is expected to have as balanced as budget as possible in a preliminary budget, which is sent and ultimately approved by the state.

"I'm very happy with this budget," Cordova said. "I think we're doing some very exciting and new things for the city. I'm most excited in moving code enforcement into the police department. That change will strengthen our code enforcement department tremendously."

Cordova explained that while the planning and zoning department will still be involved in enforcement, the city will now have a dedicated code enforcement officer, which will have some enforcement mechanisms of the police department available to the officer.

The employee who will be the city's new code enforcement officer, starting July 1, will be the police department's current security guard officer, Cordova said.

The new budget also allows for a 50-cent-an-hour raise for city employees, except for those currently making minimum wage and 15 police officers involved in the collective bargaining unit. Those three employees who are making $8.50 will get an 80-cent raise, which will bring their pay up to $9.30.

The city is currently trying to establish a salary schedule, which would start all new employees at the federal minimum wage of $10.10 per hour.

"The union in the police department has been an expense for the city over the past year because we didn't have a budget for it — it was an unexpected expense," the mayor said. "We had to find available funds elsewhere in order to support that union. One of the reasons we have a vacant position in our police department is because we had to save some extra money in order to ensure that we could negotiate with the union."

Cordova said the city has been planning for the new budget in regards to the union, and the next step is entering it with the officers.

The mayor said he's also excited that the city's budget will, for the first time, provide a line item for sidewalk improvements.

"We've never had this," he said. "It just used to be that we had this huge sum of money in our community maintenance department, and maybe they spend it on sidewalks and maybe they don't, but with this line item, it's specifically for sidewalk maintenance."

The city has also set up designating money for street light maintenance as well as money for the parks, including two temporary positions to help care for the city's parks, which have not been consistently maintained for several years.

"That's just a huge victory for the city," the mayor said. "The council understands how desperately it's needed that we care for our parks. I believe that in the next year, we'll see substantial improvements to all of our parks."

Mayor Cordova is also pleased that the city maintained a $50,000 line item for the demolition of properties in the city of Belen. The expenditure was put in place a couple of years ago to demolish unsafe houses and buildings. Two years ago, the city demolished the Freeway Inn on South Main Street, and today, a new retail store, Dollar Tree, is being built.

"By taking that property down, we now see new development going in, which helps our gross receipts," he said. "It's been a huge success as a program, and the city will continue it. The city has a few houses slated for demolition, which will happen in the next few months."

Roseann Peralta, the city's finance clerk, told the council that the budget does reflect the 5 percent increase in health insurance for employees and a 1.4 percent increase in the city's share of PERA, the city's retirement fund.

The budget also includes money for a vehicle for a detective in the police department, a truck for community service, money for improvements to the Belen Harvey House Museum. Peralta also told the council that the city is receiving additional money this year for funds such as emergency medical services, fire protection, recreation and the senior citizen's program.

What isn't in the budget, Peralta said, is money the city is requesting from FEMA and the state's Water Trust Board for detention ponds on Camino del Llano. Because a final decision on whether the two entities will provide the city money, Peralta didn't want to include it in the budget.

Included in the discussion last week and into the final preliminary budget, the council gave the mayor a salary budget in which he worked with in trying to hire a new city manager. After a discussion about salary, benefits and perks, the council agreed that the base salary of the new city budget would be $82,000, plus perks such as a car allowance and a small severance package; or $90,000 without the perks.

The preliminary budget was sent to the state's Department of Finance and Administration on Friday. After Peralta closes out the 2013-14 fiscal year finances, she will send up the remaining adjustments, and the final budget is expected to be approved in August.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.