Setting realistic goals first step in budget process for Kingman Council

Expanding sewer lines north of city limits seen as a way to lower rates

City Council received a crash course in realistic goal-setting during its budget meeting Friday.

JC AMBERLYN/Miner<br> City Council received a crash course in realistic goal-setting during its budget meeting Friday.

Setting goals is easy. Accomplishing them is another story entirely.

City Council received a crash course in realistic goal-setting when it spent the better part of eight hours over two days - separated by a week - trying to prioritize the city's capital improvements plan.

Department heads along with City Manager Jack Kramer and Finance Director Coral Loyd gathered with Council to go through a list of each department's expenditures and budget priorities. As department heads took their chance to speak, Council members would ask questions, pitch ideas and thank them for doing their jobs well.

One of the strongest ideas of the two-day meeting focused on expanding the sewer system in order to reduce the exorbitant rates customers pay. Those rates, which were increased recently, will most likely be raised another 25 percent Jan. 1.

The problem is that there are 9,000 customers paying for the $55 million Water Infrastructure Finance Authority loans taken out for the two wastewater treatment plants.

About 10 percent (900) of those customers are businesses, but they're responsible for about 37 percent of the revenue coming in by way of rates, Loyd said. The remaining 90 percent of customers are considered residential and pay the remainder.

As a way to combat these rates, Kramer suggested expanding the service incrementally into North Kingman using community development block grant money when it's available. For instance, the first phase would be to design sewer lines for outside city limits. However, many of the people in North Kingman are on septic systems, and it would require failure of an individual's system and the availability of the city's sewer lines for people to make the switch.

Good thing for the city is that repairing a septic system is much more expensive than connecting to the city's sewer system, Mayor John Salem said.

If people in North Kingman have a sewer line in front of their home when their septic fails, they're going to connect to the city's system, Vice Mayor Robin Gordon said.

"This is a good time to give back to the community," Councilman Richard Anderson said. "We need a plan to bring (residents of North Kingman) in to help pay for the fixed operation costs. It's time to step forward with a strategic plan."

Salem added that these types of big projects are better done on a pay-as-you-go basis. The first order of business would be to come up with a design, he said. After that, the city would move forward with the system piece by piece. After four or five years, the city will have completed a good portion of the project, with more customers and a lower monthly sewer bill for customers.

Despite the overwhelming need for more sewer customers, a plan to expand the service will take time to be implemented and longer to come to fruition.

Outside of the sewer discussion, much of the two days consisted of discussing what's important to individual Council members and department heads, such as improving Airway Avenue between Stockton Hill Road and Western Avenue ($665,000), filling some of the vacant positions in various departments, getting a new fire engine to replace the one that's over 15 years old ($435,000), and updating the engineering department's outdated software ($50,000).

However, Gordon made a surprising suggestion when she proposed the city take over the Christmas parade from the Downtown Merchants Association because it has the manpower for crowd control, organization and cleanup.

Several members opposed this idea because Council stopped funding the 4th of July fireworks when it worked through last year's budget.

Kramer said it would cost about $6,000 to take over the parade, an amount the city is probably not in the position to absorb.

What if the Downtown Merchant's Association funds it, but the city controls it, asked Gordon.

"They have the money," Gordon said. "They don't have the manpower."

Kramer said that could be doable, so Gordon said she would ask the association what it thought.

This work session was merely part of the budget process. No matter how important an individual item is to an individual Council member, if there's no money to pay for it then it will remain unfunded, Kramer said. The list of unfunded projects within the capital improvements plan is long, but revenue remains tight - no amount of discussion changes that.

Local woman Herberta Schroeder was at the second day of discussions and spent hours watching the first meeting's video on the Internet. She wasn't impressed, and described the meeting as, "Hours of useless wish listing."

On April 12, the same cast will reconvene for another round of budget talks once they receive the preliminary budget and updated capital improvements plan, complete with some of the suggestions put forth at the work session.