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Arlington budget tight, but meeting its targets

City of Arlington Finance Director Jim Chase reports to the Arlington City Council on Oct. 28 that the city is meeting its budget targets for this year. - Kirk Boxleitner
City of Arlington Finance Director Jim Chase reports to the Arlington City Council on Oct. 28 that the city is meeting its budget targets for this year.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

ARLINGTON — The word “rosy” became unexpectedly controversial during the Arlington City Council workshop meeting on Monday, Oct. 28, as city of Arlington Finance Director Jim Chase initially characterized the city’s funds situation in a more optimistic light than Arlington City Administrator Allen Johnson cared for.

“We’re right about where we should be for the year so far,” Chase said, as he presented the third quarter financial report for 2013. “Retail sales tax is above where it’s been for the last several years, but not to where it was in 2007-08. Our building permits last year were strong, but we still have a couple of months to see if they come in around the same level for this year. The street fund is close to coming in where it should be, and the EMS fund revenues are amazing.”

When Chase deemed this outlook “rosy,” Johnson laughed, “I’m not sure what part of this is rosy. We’re doing better, but it’s ridiculous to use that term.”

Arlington Assistant City Administrator Kristin Banfield, who presented the 2014 draft budget alongside Chase that evening, likewise added after the meeting that, while the city is meeting its budget targets for this year, its financials remain very tight.

“We made substantial cuts to balance the 2013 budget, and we are keeping our expenditures within those cuts,” Banfield said. “The Council has also been very clear with staff that reserves must return to the amounts required by our policies. This is where we will continue to struggle. Even if a property tax levy lid lift passes, the city will only be three-quarters of the way to the levels required by policy, and the state auditors, by 2021.”

The budget assumes not only that voters approve the levy lid lift in the spring, but also that the current upward sales tax revenue trend will continue.

“This is a real house of cards,” Johnson said. “We’re depending on additional revenues to make this budget work, and if we don’t get them, we’ll be back here real quick. So again, it’s not rosy.”

“How can we collect the levy lid lift money for next year if that doesn’t go into effect until 2015?” Arlington City Council member Chris Raezer asked.

“We can’t, but we can leverage our budget against money that we know will be in the bank,” Johnson said.

A public hearing on the proposed property tax levy lid lift is scheduled for the Arlington City Council regular session meeting on Monday, Nov. 4.

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