City Council hears financial update from City Finance Director

by Richard Uhlhorn

Steve Thornton, finance director at the City of Chelan gave a detailed but informal financial report to the City Council at its Tuesday evening Council meeting on how the Coronavirus pandemic might affect the City’s business.

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Chelan Finance Director
Steve Thornton

Thornton said he is looking really closely to get a good feel of what the impact is going to be by the end of June. The City had a cash balance of $2,688,236 at the end of 2019 and budgeted its revenue at $4,427,697 in 2020. Thornton is predicting a 15 to20 percent revenue loss from sales tax and building department fees because of the pandemic. All other funds within the City need to be considered separately.

“We are taking a good look at our expenses,” said Thornton. He said there is about $200,000 in cost savings.

The street fund which is largely funded through property tax and fuel tax should be Ok. “We should be pretty good with our property taxes. They are a pretty stable source of funding,” said Thornton. Fuel taxes were budgeted at $90,000 but Thornton said that even if the City lost 50% of that funding to $40,000, it would weather that loss by putting the hiring of an engineer on hold and the purchase of a new truck on hold.

Thornton mentioned the Council passed ordinance that gives rate payers a deferral on their payments for water, sewer and sanitation. “We are not going to be charging late fees for April, May, or June and will not shut anyone off.” In July, the City will be sending out a blank repayment form asking rate payers who haven’t paid their utility bills, how they plan on repaying them within a five month period.

Councilman Tim Hollingsworth asked Thornton how many people were taking advantage of the no-pay program. Thornton replied that he doesn’t know and won’t until the end of the month when the majority of rate payers pay their bills. Hollingsworth predicted that a lot of people would be taking advantage of the deferral program.

Councilman Ray Dobbs asked if the recycling program is one that needed close watch and/or was a drain on the system. “It that another one of those areas we have to watch closely.” Public works director, Jake Youngren replied that recycling is very volatile and that the City is monitoring it consistently. Thornton added that the City is looking at the cost of disposal versus taking it to the land fill. “We budgeted a rate study to analyze our system.” Youngren said he was initiating that study soon.

The Parks Department is the one area that the City is feeling a major impact. With the RV Park and Golf Course shut down, it is bleeding money. “In April we received no income,” said Thornton. “That was painful for us.”

The Lakeshore RV Park earned the City $238,000 in April last year. “The RV Park pays a lot of bills for the parks,” said Thornton. It also transfers approximately $350,000 into the Capital budget. Last year, Thornton reported that the Parks Department earned $2.9 million dollars for the City and its parks. “Our budget this year was for $2,966,000. We don’t really know where this is going. Maybe in June we will see more of an uptick.”

At a previous council meeting the council asked the City for a Facebook page so it could get information out to the public in a timely manner. Peri Gallucci attempted to set one up, but ran into trouble with the complex process.

Gallucci told the Council that there was a lot more too it than she anticipated to legally protect the City and asked for help. “It is not something I have the capacity to do,” said Gallucci. She contacted Jenna Rahm, who has experience in this area.

Rahm told the Council that it is a great way to get information out, but that once you have a presence, you have to stick with it. “You are going to have people watching it and commenting,” said Rahm.

Councilman Peter Jamtgaard asked what percentage of municipalities have Facebook? Gallucci replied that most of them do and they are pretty popular.

The big question was whether a social media presence was even needed. Councilman Hollingsworth said he would prefer to hold off on this. “I find our website lacking in a lot of ways and would like to spend our resources on our website. It is a much safer way.”

Councilman Ray Dobbs replied during the conversation that the City wanted a way to get the word out. “The answer is you drop something out there (on social media) and link it back to the website.” City Attorney Quentin Batjar said that some thought is going to have to go into the policies for the page. Gallucci said they were looking at other sites. “It is not a dialogue… it is a way to get information out.”

Councilman Ty Witt entered into the discussion and said he could see the value of it, but that the City needs a website that is up to date. Dobbs said it would be a reader board for the City. “Facebook is an easy way to do it,” said Dobbs. Councilwoman McCardle said that that the City can’t expect people to know what they don’t know.

In the past, public notifications, as per law, would be published in the paper… people in the general neighborhood of the project would be informed with a letter and postings would go up in the neighborhood, but in reality, many people in the community complain constantly that they didn’t know that a development was proposed, i.e. Holiday Hills is an example. Facebook information would inform the public of City proposed actions.

City Council will hold its next meeting on May 12. The venue will be announced after more information is available concerning the Governor’s orders.

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