Thursday, May 21, 2020

Commissioners, Staff Discuss FY 2021 City Budget

The City of Sallisaw staff presented the city commissioners with the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2021 at a two-day special meeting this week. The meeting was held Tuesday and Wednesday at the Wheeler Event Center.

Titled “2021: A New Chapter,” the budget proposal includes a 6.62 percent increase from fiscal 2020 to the general fund, a $1.3 million increase, for a total of $21,007,241, and City Manager Keith Skelton said that by June 30, 2021, the city’s reserve fund will have $995,000 in its coffers.

Once the budget is finalized, city staff has set a June 8 deadline to present the completed budget to the commissioners for an official vote.

“Fiscal Year 2020 was quite a year,” Skelton said, noting that the first nine months of the fiscal year were great, tax revenues were looking good, but then the coronavirus “puts the brakes on everything.” Skelton also said the city was pretty much shielded from the worst of the pandemic, which was a blessing. And the city was also lucky, Skelton said, that so many restaurants here were able to transition to curbside and drive-through service instead of dine-in and make it through the pandemic successfully.

Though the city rescinded its plans to increase electrical service rates because of COVID-19, those changes will soon take effect.

Sales tax revenues are on track for an all-time record high, Skelton said, but he pointed out that the proposed budget was structured so that officials can back up and regroup in case the pandemic resurfaces and causes any further stay-at-home orders. “This will make it very easy for us to adjust (the figures) on the run,” he said.

Budget figures will also include a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase for city employees.

Skelton said the budget numbers take into account any losses that are expected from the coronavirus’ impact on the city. In his presentation, Skelton and Sallisaw Economic Development Director George Bormann also highlighted several positive things going on in the community, including the planned Veterans Center, expansions at the Aviagen plant, work on the wastewater treatment plant and more.

Bormann said groundbreaking on the Veterans Center is expected to begin in late summer or early fall. 

Skelton discussed various programs the city is planning, including the summer streets program, which is expected to continue this year. Skelton said the city is considering purchasing a small asphalt machine to make street repair easier for city crews. Mayor Ernie Martens liked that idea, and the commissioners urged Skelton to look into it further. “I feel like we can get a lot of use from a small (asphalt) machine,” Martens said, and it will save the city money to boot.

City sales tax numbers are good, Skelton said, though he pointed out that tax figures for May have not been released yet and may show a slight downward trend because of the coronavirus.

The Series 2013 bond issue and half-cent sales tax the city has in place could fund a swimming complex and other “quality-of-life” projects, Skelton said, and some of the funds could be earmarked for economic development projects.

A swimming complex is a priority for the city, Skelton said, and the bond issue, which expires in August 2023, should be put to a vote of the people whether or not to let the tax expire. Skelton said the bond’s renewal could provide funding for a new wastewater treatment plant in the city, something he says is vitally necessary.

Some projects city crews are working on include the 62-acre expansion of the landfill. Crews are measuring the groundwater table now and are working on the design. Crews are hoping to finish the project in about three years.

Other projects include the ongoing methane farm project, which has several attorneys working on the annexation of land near the landfill. Crews are also trying to create a leachate line to the city sewer system.

The city pool will open June 1 as planned, Skelton said.

Skelton also highlighted several projects and purchases the city was able to make last year, including the new Event Center, moving the Chamber of Commerce office, creating the new Splash Pad and remodeling at Stanley W. Tubbs Memorial Library and the City Hall’s lobby and more.

The walking trail at the city’s Sports Complex is nearly complete, Skelton said. He said construction was hampered by the flooding that occurred in May 2019 -- and the storm Friday that brought more than 4 inches of rain to the city in 90 minutes didn’t help, either, Skelton noted.

The city was also able to acquire necessary work equipment as well, with purchases including a water wagon for the landfill, a euthanization incinerator for the animal shelter, “Curbie” the trash truck and more.

In fiscal 2020, Sallisaw was named an honorary Purple Heart Community and received the military Order of the Purple Heart in recognition of the city’s commitment to military veterans.

The commissioners also held a 46-minute executive session to discuss Skelton’s performance as city manager. No details were available.

The meeting was held Tuesday and Wednesday at the Wheeler Event Center.

Laura Brown, KXMX Staff Writer

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