Council OKs 2019-2020 financial plan

The city’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year was approved this evening by council and gives the planning and development department $50,000 to plan for housing demolition.

The windfall for the department was announced by City Manager Joseph Scherer who prior to the financial plan’s unanimous approval said the cost of the city’s liability insurance “came in much less” than anticipated. He said the savings was to be put in the demolition line for the department.

Planning and Development Director Kelly Lasky had stated at the start of budget work sessions earlier this year demolition was one of the department’s most pressing needs.

As it ended up, Lasky received funds for a full-time administrative assistant, which she had said at the start of the process was another pressing need, although at the time she had requested a part-time employee.

“We ask for additional demolition money on a regular basis,” she said following the meeting.

The money is expected to cover the cost of around four houses. She said the department will prioritize which structures are addressed based on several factors including the severity of damages and how much of an imminent danger a dilapidated structure poses. “We hope it will make a difference.”

The  $16,809,139 budget has been on display at city hall and on the city’s website since May 22. A public hearing two weeks ago drew no speakers. The financial plan does not include a tax increase and does not use fund balance.

In his report to council Scherer said, “A new fiscal year is a good time to look ahead to the possibilities and challenges that can be taken on in the upcoming year. There are a host of challenges that face all local governments in the 21st Century — delivering services; lack of finance; managing staff; engaging citizens; forming new partnerships and rapidly evolving technologies and socio-economic demographics.”

Scherer said while some challenges, such as the economy, crime rates and improving infrastructure are similar no matter the size of governing bodies, “one major principle in the city’s budget development was to help ensure the decisions city council makes financially are going to continue to help the city be sustainable as an organization for many years to come.”

The city manager said, “A well-prepared municipal budget must offer a plan for providing effective and cost-efficient services to the citizens. This is reflected by a budget document that presents the convergence of public policy, financial oversight and operational accountability.

“Our fiscal year 2019-2020 budget is more than a line item allocation — it provides practical approaches to both short- and long-term priorities.”

The city’s priorities are numerous, he said. “ … The city’s responsibility is to address many of these priorities through services provided. The struggle to meet these  priorities is balanced with economic realities — there are not sufficient financial resources to fund every need.”

Said Scherer: “We face increasing citizen demands and expectations with leveling or decreasing revenue. And on top of that we have a dedicated staff that doesn’t want to tell the public there aren’t enough resources to meet those expectations.

“Our administration tries to address this through tools of transparency, good communication, honesty and really inviting people in to make sure they get their questions answered.”

Well-managed budgets, he said, “also provide our employees with this satisfaction that they’re contributing directly to the community’s overall health and well-being. While the challenges are many, we look forward to serving the citizens of Roanoke Rapids with the most effective and cost-efficient services we can provide.”

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