Ephraim City grapples with $518K shortfall in draft budget for 2019-20
By James Tilson
EPHRAIM—The Ephraim City Council met last week to cut spending, with hopes of coming close to balancing the budget for the coming year.
The regular city council meeting on Wednesday June 5 was set aside to solely discuss how to get the city budget closer, at least, to a balanced budget.
Ephraim Finance Director Steve Widmer told the council the budget had a shortfall of $518,485. “However, we don’t’ have to go all the way to $500,000 in cuts, even $250,000 would do,” he said.
Widmer started by informing the council two projected expenses originally in the budget were being withdrawn. A backhoe purchase requested by the power department would instead be a lease, saving the city $28,000. And the fire department had withdrawn a request for new equipment as well, saving another $8,500.
The council examined a list of non-repeating expenditures drawn up by Widmer, and debated on what programs they could cut. Even on this list, there were a number of items that were deemed too important.
Expenses like installing culinary pipe in the Ephraim Tunnel, and the new culinary well, were not even brought up for discussion by the council. Certain others, such as an affordable housing study and an industrial park survey, were brought up, but city staff explained why those items were absolutely necessary.
“The state legislature is requiring these studies to be done,” said City Engineer Bryan Kimball, explaining why the two studies were a necessary expense. “And they are starting to withhold funding if they are not done.”
An item that did engender some debate was a proposed remodeling of the city hall to install safety (bullet-proof) glass between the public and city employees. The budget set aside $100,000 for the project, but as the city did not have bids for the project there was some uncertainty whether that would be enough money.
“I believe this is a very important project,” said Councilman Tyler Alder, “but I’d rather do it right, and get bids and architects first.”
Councilman John Scott agreed with Alder. “Let’s wait a year. The police department is in the city hall. We should look into CIB (Community Impact Board) funding and do a better job next year.”
Pursuant to a motion from Councilmen Richard Wheeler and Greg Boothe, the funding was reduced to $20,000 in order to hire architects to develop plans, which could then be used to look for grant funding.
Finally, after a number of other requests were cut, the council was able to cut $238,000 from the budget. However, the council could not see any other budget lines which they did not think were absolutely necessary. Upon being asked, Widmer told the council, “I am comfortable with that amount of cuts,” and the council agreed to draft the new budget based on the cuts they had made.
Widmer had one other issue to bring up with the council before the end of the meeting. He told the council, “The water fund is dry.” He explained based on this year’s expenditures out of the water fund, there would be very little left over at the end of the year. Even though water rates had been raised earlier this year, Widmer warned the council would have to get in the habit of making small, gradual changes to the rates in order to keep up with the changes in the cost of living.
Widmer said the council should expect to deal with this issue again this coming winter.