Danedri Thompson
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It resembled a board game. However, the fake money city council members used during a work session on June 10 will be replaced by real dollars when they adopt a budget later this summer.
Council members drafted goals for the city budget at a previous work session. The goals included promoting economic development, improving the quality of life for Gardner residents, sound fiscal stewardship and maintaining existing infrastructure. During the June 10 meeting, members examined a series of projects to assist in those goals.
For example, one project, a new comprehensive plan, will cost approximately $80,000. City staff told council the plan would create a roadmap for economic development in the city.
Another project, a citizen survey, would engage citizens to provide greater quality of life. That would cost $15,000.
A third project, an IT services agreement, would be costly — $105,000. But Laura Gourley, city finance director, said technology is the backbone of every city department. Currently, the city has no disaster recovery system, no standardization of equipment and its newest tech equipment is from 2007.
“You are one hiccup away from utter calamity,” Gourley told the council.
The list included projects worth $580,000, but council will have approximately $250,000 in general fund dollars next year to use.
City staff gave each council member a list of projects and $250,000 in fake money to spend. When they completed the task, staff tallied the expenditures from each council member to determine which projects had the most support.
All six council members spent $80,000 on the comprehensive plan. Five council members used their dollars to build a $35,000 quiet zone near Gardner Cemetery. Four council members funded the $105,000 IT services and upgrades.
City administrator Cheryl Harrison-Lee said council members could also fund the two projects receiving three votes, thanks to council members who didn’t spend all of their budgets. Those projects included a $25,000 contract for school crossing guards and $25,000 for economic development strategies.
Council member Larry Fotovich had the most money left. He retained $20,000.
“I don’t see any priorities to reduce taxes if we have more than we need,” Fotovich said. He was also referred to a reserve balance that sits at 51 percent of total expenditures. That’s three times more than the city needs in savings, he said.
“Any time you have an excess, you pay down debt. You do maintenance,” he said. “You don’t pave roads for a developer. Any time you have that much in excess, you use that to buy down the tax rate.”
The other council members did not agree that the council should make lowering the tax rate a priority.
Mayor Chris Morrow said the city deferred projects for so long, the council should determine where they’re behind before agreeing to cut taxes.
“It’s not to say the number one thing is to cut taxes until we get a big picture look,” Morrow said. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
Harrison-Lee said city staff will use the council’s project priorities to draft a proposed budget.
“We’re going to come back in the next two weeks and give you an update of what that does,” she said.
To thank the council for their hard work and leadership that potentially left a little left over in the budget, she gave the council a goodie bag that including Smarties and PayDay candy.
“This is basically what happens when you have too much money,” Fotovich joked. “We spend $20,000 and we get Smarties and PayDays.”