By Tia Lyons
Revenues for most city sales taxes are lagging behind 2015, but they are running ahead of revenues for 2016, when the city experienced a $1 million revenue loss in the general fund.
Members of the El Dorado City Council Finance Committee will take that information into 2018 budget talks, which are expected to begin soon.
Proposed 2018 budgets have been submitted for the police, fire and municipal airport.
Robert Edmonds, director of public works, told city officials Wednesday that he expects to submit the proposed budget for his department by Friday, saying that it will include the operating budget for the El Dorado Water Utilities.
City Treasurer Bonnie Wyles reported that all city sales taxes, with the exception of the El Dorado Works economic development tax, are trending below 2015.
The finance committee is using 2015 numbers to gauge trends for 2017 sales tax revenue, considering the major income shortfall for 2016.
“Twenty-sixteen is the worst we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Wyles, who began working for the city in 2011.
The shortfall was attributed to lower consumer spending and hundreds of contract workers leaving town following extended stays for large maintenance and expansion projects for local industries.
Wyles said that through the end of September, collections on the city’s quarter-cent, one-cent, and one-cent solid waste capital improvement taxes are 7.77 percent, 9.4 percent, and 7.76 percent higher, respectively, than the same time period in 2016.
However, collections on the three taxes are running behind collections of 2015.
The El Dorado Works tax is up 9.43 percent from 2016 and 2.5 percent higher than 2015.
“We’re far from making up the deficit for 2016,” Hash cautioned.
The finance committee has met at least once a month this year to closely monitor city revenue trends for a tightly prepared 2017 budget.
With the exception of a rear-loading garbage truck and two police cars to replace units that were wrecked, the city put a hold on capital expenditures for the year.
On Wednesday, Police Chief Billy White and Fire Chief Chad Mosby said that while some line items are dwindling in their respective budgets, they’ll be able to hold their own until the end of the year.
“At the end of the day, we’re getting our bills paid. We’re having to find money from some line items to pay other line items,” White said.
“We’re in the same boat as Chief White. Some line items are getting a little thin, and some line items, we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, which is not unusual,” Mosby said.
Edmonds made similar statements, adding, “I think we’re OK. Overall, we should finish fine. There’ll be some line items that will tapped out.”
Alderman Willie McGhee inquired about overtime hours for city time and manpower that were used for preparation for and during the opening days of the Murphy Arts District and MusicFest.
White and Mosby said MAD is reimbursing the city for providing security and first-aid/medical services, respectively, for MAD, which kicked off on Sept. 27 — Oct. 1.
MusicFest was held on Sept. 29 — Oct. 1. Both events were set in Downtown El Dorado.
Edmonds said he is still gathering expenses to submit to MAD for reimbursement for city employees who worked during the grand opening of the arts and entertainment district.
“For public works, you’d better brace for the impact. There’s going to be significant overtime with all of the preparation and work after the festival,” Hash said.
Alderman Billy Blann inquired about the work that was done after Hash and McGhee mentioned that employees were working late into night.
“What were they doing out at two and three in the morning?” Blann said.
Edmonds said it took some time to clean up city streets after thousands of people left MAD and MusicFest events.
Edmonds said the crowds left in waves after earlier shows ended and then later shows were held.
“They were picking up trash, moving barricades. We had about 20 people out there. Prior to that, they spent a month and a half working until dark every day prepping streets,” Edmonds said. “We had a whole lot of streets to pave and little time to do it in.”
Going forward, Hash and Edmonds said that while the city will continue to support MAD, much of the work will not be recurring.
Edmonds said several downtown streets were repaved ahead of the grand opening, and cleanup during and after events will mostly be needed for outside venues.
“It depends. The things they have inside won’t generate much waste, but things they have outside — you get 5,000 people outside, and it can get pretty messy,” Edmonds said.
Hash said that if MAD continues to grow, the city may consider forming a support arm separate from the department of public works to perform such services as cleanup and setting up and removing barricades — duties city employees perform for other large, outdoor events, including MusicFest and parades.
Hash said crews are finishing up downtown streets and repaving other streets in all four city wards.
Mosby also advised aldermen that his department will wrack up some overtime hours before the end of year due to upcoming vacations and filling in for three firefighters that recently left to to take jobs in the private sector.
“That puts us down six,” Mosby said, adding that he hopes to be able to fill some of the open slots with certified candidates after Civil Service exams are administered next week.
Electronic city records
The council agreed to hold off on a proposal that will make city records available to the public online.
City Clerk Heather McVay presented alderman with a contract from R&D Computer Systems, LLC, to set up web distribution portals and provide software, maintenance and technical support to complete a long-running project to digitize city records.
The first phase of the project was completed last year with the scanning of city ordinances, resolutions, minutes and other documents.
“Everything is scanned and ready to be uploaded. They can do it remotely,” McVay said, adding that she has done some of the work herself to save the city money in phase one of the project.
She also said she has begun scanning minutes from city board and commission meetings so they may eventually be available online.
The proposed contract includes a one-time cost of $8,395.51. which would be good until June, when the fiscal year for R&D ends.
McVay said the quote includes $7,995 to develop the distribution portal and annual support of $1,200.01.
The combined total has been prorated with a 10 percent discount for nine months.
Starting in June 2018, annual support costs would increase to the regular price of $1,600.
Blann and Alderman Judy Ward questioned the $1,600 amount, asking what services would be included.
The two aldermen, along with Alderman Vance Williamson, asked if a per-hour payment option was available to cover services when needed.
The $1,600 would be in addition to an annual fee of $1,419.18 for existing software and maintenance for phase one.
McVay said she would check with R&D for answers to the aldermen’s questions.
McVay previously said she was advised by Hash to hold off on presenting the contract for phase two in light of the 2016 revenue deficit.
Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or by email at tlyons@ eldoradonews.com.