Economy Mending

Town income rises across the board

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The Town of Payson’s revenue rose modestly across the board in November, according to the monthly financial tracking report.

Income rose in almost every category for the year.

That includes a 6 percent rise in local sales tax receipts to $2.1 million for the July-November period.

Moreover, the town’s share of state income tax receipts rose by 17 percent to $651,000 for the year. That’s especially good news, since the state has a nearly two-year lag in passing along the local share of the income taxes. This means that at the state income tax level, the economy has significantly recovered.

The sales tax money collected by the state and then redistributed based on population rose by 3 percent to $393,000. That figure offered surprising evidence that local sales have actually rebounded more this year than sales statewide.

Even the vehicle license tax on the sales of new cars rose, up an impressive 15 percent to $324,000.

The good news continued in the long, moribund building department.

The building permit revenues rose 30 percent to $74,000. That’s still far below the heady days of 2007 and 2008, but a striking gain from the depths of the recession.

Permits for plan review — which reflect the projects in the pipeline — followed suit. Plan review fees rose 54 percent to $37,000.

Even the town’s share of the gas tax money it gets from the state for building and maintaining roads jumped — rising 10 percent to $452,000 for the fiscal year to date.

Generally, despite the year-to-date increase in revenues, town spending in most departments remains below budget.

Payson did get some bad budget news earlier in the year, with news that it didn’t receive several hoped-for federal grants. On the other hand, the town did get a $600,000 federal grant to pay the salaries of firefighters hired to man a fire truck at the new, third fire station — that will service the section of town that includes Chaparral Pines and The Rim Club country clubs and the site for the proposed university campus.

Water department holds steady

One of the most expensive items in the town’s budget remains the water department, which appears in its own fund instead of as part of the general fund. The water department has collected $2 million in revenues — about $240,000 more than projected at the start of the year.

However, the water department continues to lag well behind projections when it comes to collecting the $7,500-per-home water use impact fee. Payson had hoped to pay for the Blue Ridge water pipeline with that money, but the recession demolished new construction. Instead of collecting the $4.8 million projected, the town has collected just $2.8 million. The town council two years ago set in motion a series of substantial increases in water rates to pay for the pipeline, but can cancel some of those increases going forward if impact fees start flowing again.

The $13 million general fund accounts for most of the town’s services except for the water department. Out of that $13 million, 78 percent goes to payroll.

On paper, the town’s general fund budget remains about $13,000 in the hole, but Finance Manager Hope Cribb said that’s just a timing issue — with some early payouts that will even out by the end of the year. The beginning general fund surplus of $367,000 has turned into the $13,000 deficit — at least on paper.

That deficit would have loomed much larger, except almost every town department has spent less than projected.

The savings start with the police department, which is about $300,000 under budget — thanks largely to a growing number of vacancies. The department is about six officers under strength — that represents a shortage of nearly 20 percent, although it has plans to fill all of those slots as quickly as possible. The police department’s budget totals $4.3 million annually, about one-third of the general fund. Adding the six officers to the payroll will more than wipe out that savings, although it will take some months to add them to the staff.

The fire department also remains well under budget — almost $300,000. The department’s budget totals $3.5 million annually. The fire department hit gold earlier this year when it landed a big federal grant to pay the salaries of the crew for the new fire station for about three years. After that, the town will have to find a way to pay for the extra firefighters out of local funds.

The police officers and firefighters added will increase general fund spending by $600,000 or more — an increase of at least 5 percent. Payson residents pay about $520 per person for police and fire protection, although the bulk of the money comes from the sales tax — much of that paid by out-of-town visitors.

The town’s general services budget also remains about $200,000 behind projections, a reflection of changes made in the benefits package for all town employees. The town recently shifted to a different health benefit plan and made changes in its retirement plans, which reduced long-term costs. The cost of the benefits works out to $60 per resident annually.

The other departments

Most other town departments have also remained slightly behind projections.

The recreation department remains perhaps the hardest hit in the wake of years of restricted budgets. The department cut back programs and imposed an array of fees as the recession hit. The official budget stands at $346,000, a shadow of its former self. Even so, the department has so far spent just $104,000 — about 27 percent behind its projected budget for this time of the year.

Overall, the various departments included in the general fund have spent $700,000 less than projected at this point in the year — a savings of 13 percent.

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