Auditor: ‘The city is financially healthy’

SALEM — In reflecting on the 2019 budget just passed by Salem City Council this past Tuesday, city Auditor Betty Brothers said “the city is financially healthy.”

Barring any huge unexpected expenses in the next few weeks, she said she’s expecting to see at least a $1.6 million carryover in the general fund to kick off the new year.

“Everybody recognizes that this is taxpayer money. Nobody spends recklessly,” she said. “Thanks to the departments for being good stewards of the funds entrusted to them.”

The general fund appropriations, which rely heavily on the 1 percent income tax, totaled $6,016,341 as approved by council for next year. Brothers has predicted $5.5 million in revenue for 2019 for the general fund. If all holds true with the revenue and the carryover, the city will be in the black to the tune of nearly $1.1 million.

When the budget was approved for 2018 at this time last year, the general fund appropriations totaled $5,683,650.

Brothers pointed out there were wage increases for employees, including part-timers.

In the police department, an additional officer was added to the ranks to keep the patrol numbers the same after Patrolman Rich Miller became the school resource officer assigned to Salem City Schools on a full-time basis. The school district pays a portion of the wages for the new officer.

Under street lighting, which is the city electrician, the budget reflects an increase due to having two electricians as they transition for one of them retiring.

With the exception of the service, utilities, parks, health and housing departments, which operate on special funds, fees and in the case of the parks, levies, most of the city operations rely on the general fund to operate.

That equates to relying on the 1 percent income tax the city charges to residents and those who work in the city, since that’s the source for the majority of the general fund income. A portion of the income tax also covers income tax office operations, capital improvements and debt payments, which are separate from the general fund.

The 2019 general fund budgets for the core departments in the city include (with the 2018 budget amount in parentheses):

— police, $2,158,970 ($2,058,225)

— school patrol, $22,500 ($20,205)

— humane officer, $10,390 ($9,845)

— fire, $1,394,475 ($1,378,200)

— street lighting (electrician), $255,077 ($224,651)

— traffic safety, $87,775 (92,108)

— planning & zoning, $93,734 ($86,731)

— street maintenance & repair, $28,500 ($28,500)

— mayor’s office, $74,464 ($74,995)

— auditor’s office, $170,518 ($165,960)

— treasurer’s office, $10,191 ($9,751)

— law director’s office, $103,634 ($104,231)

— service director’s office, $93,292 (99,231)

— council, $248,823 ($247,488)

— clerk of council, $7,177 ($7,177)

— civil service, $10,395 ($7,971)

— city hall, land & building, $256,559 ($253,031)

— administrative expense, $989,865 ($815,709)

The numbers only reflect what could be spent, not necessarily what actually will be spent. The actual spending for 2018 won’t be known until the year ends, which is when the actual carryover will be known, too. The numbers for 2018 also don’t reflect any additional appropriations that may have occurred in the year since the original budget was passed.

When asked what stood out in the budget, Brothers pointed out an increase in the transfer out appropriation to the street department from the administrative expense line item in the general fund.

The street department, also known as the service department, operates on gas tax and vehicle registration funds, which have stayed the same every year while expenses have risen. Due to the revenue being stagnant, the general fund has had to supplement the street department as salt prices, wages and benefits and other costs have gone up.

She explained that normally $100,000 was budgeted and was used as needed. In 2018, an additional $30,000 had to be appropriated for a total of $130,000. For 2019, she upped the budgeted amount to $215,000 to transfer to streets, only if needed.

“Other than that, everything is business as usual,” she said regarding the general fund budget.