Budget Features Big Boost For Police, Fire

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Payson’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year reflects a struggle to address long-postponed needs and big increases in public safety spending — despite the town’s still-sickly economic recovery.

The proposal would give employees a 3 percent raise — the first in years. It would also provide money to fill long-empty positions, including a human resource analyst position, a grant-funded victims rights advocate and filling several more vacant police positions.

A slew of newly filled positions and a big increase in state-mandated benefits would result in a proposed 20 percent increase in the police department budget compared to year-end spending this year. The fire department budget would jump 17 percent compared to its projected year-end spending. However, the proposed budget totals are still lower than the budgets actually adopted last June for both departments.

Those projected spending increases fly in the face of weak tax projections.

The operations budget — which funds most town departments, but not things like debt service, capital projects and grants — peaked at $26 million in 2009-10 and will decline to an expected $22 million in 2013-14.

The proposed budget includes a whisper thin reserve fund of about $450,000 — enough to keep the town running for about three weeks.

As a result, the council is also considering targeted layoffs — although the discussion of eliminating the position of the fire marshal has already spurred a vigorous backlash.

The town has taken on signif

icant added expenses in the past year, including hiring six firefighters to man the new, third fire station. A federal grant will pay for the bulk of the salaries for the first three years, but that decision hangs over future budget projections.

In addition, the town decided to go ahead and fill five or six vacancies on the police department. Although most categories of crime have declined along with the number of officers on the force, the town now has fewer officers per 1,000 population than recommended by state standards, which in theory places extra stress on officers. That presumed added stress has played a role in recent workman’s compensation rulings that went against the town.

The budget summary provided by Payson Finance Manager Hope Cribb noted that the town’s workman’s compensation costs have risen 20 percent. In addition, the state has required the town to increase its contributions to the retirement system for police and fire from about 31 percent of salary to about 41 percent of salary.

But with an again-growing workforce and steep new costs imposed by state legislation, the town’s revenues have not yet recovered from the real estate crash four years ago.

Local sales taxes account for about $6.1 million in projected revenue and state-shared sales taxes another $1.3 million. All the other sources of revenue for Payson amount to pocket change. That includes $1.7 million in state-shared income tax, $230,000 in hotel bed taxes, $1.4 million in state-shared gas taxes and $654,000 in property taxes.

State-shared gas taxes and income taxes will likely increase modestly in the upcoming fiscal year, according to the budget projections. However, local sales taxes will likely remain flat or decline slightly — if they follow the pattern of the past three years.

The projections do call for a modest increase in assessed value from $165 million to $178 million — a welcome break from several years of declining value. But with the expiration of a tax charge for a bond issue, the property taxes collected will decline from $634,000 to $624,000, as the rate drops from 38 to 35 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The preliminary spending plan calls for significant budget increases in many departments.

For instance, the police department will spend about $4 million this year, but $4.8 million next year — a hefty 20 percent increase thanks to the benefit increases and the filled positions. The adopted budget for the current year was $4.4 million, but the department came in well under budget thanks to the unfilled vacancies.

The fire department budget will increase from this year’s $3 million to $3.5 million, a 17 percent increase — thanks to the boost in benefits and manpower. However, the $3.5 million matches last year’s adopted budget, if not the actual spending.

Ironically, the department will likely lose its contingent of reserve firefighters. The budget committee was leery of federal rules requiring health benefits for anyone working more than 30 hours and with the six new firefighters added, the committee concluded the town didn’t need the 10 reserve firefighters anymore.

Other departments have proposed significant increases over the actual spending this year as well, although many of the totals remain close to the budget adopted in June. Almost every town department this year has spent less than the council approved this year.

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