DIXON – The City Council started prioritizing expenses for the 2013-2014 budget Monday.
At the end of budget talks, Finance Director Paula Meyer said the city will have a projected general fund balance of at least $900,000.
Meyer told commissioners and department heads a list of hopeful projects, equipment and personnel came in about $2.4 million off that target.
"We were able to cut $400,000 already, and we've barely scratched the surface," Meyer said. "This is a list of everything that was wanted, including wish-list-type stuff."
When the City Council reconvenes for its next budget session April 8, talks will begin on capital projects and personnel requests, Finance Commissioner David Blackburn said. Personnel has yet to be discussed.
The general fund must be budgeted $900,000 in the black as part of a plan to bring the total fund balance positive, Meyer said. Because of the nearly $54 million theft by former Comptroller Rita Crundwell, the fund was left $3.4 million in the red.
Steps have been taken to bring it to an appropriate balance through the tax levy, by not levying money for the Social Security and Illinois Municipal Retirement funds – which had adequate money in them – and levying that money for the general fund.
"We can't budget that money, because it will not be a permanent source of revenue," Meyer said. "After a few years, that money will go back into funding Social Security and IMRF."
Commissioners Monday asked department heads to make a case for each item they put on their list, and cite whether it was a need or second priority.
For instance, Police Chief Danny Langloss said a $215,000 upgrade to the radio system was an absolute need to rectify dead spots within the system.
A $300,000 project to remodel the first floor at City Hall with a main counter to direct traffic flow was immediately removed from the list.
"Isn't this a wish-list item?" Commissioner Dennis Considine asked. "I don't see us doing that this year."
About $666,000 in equipment requests were made by department heads.
So far, the police department listed two squad cars as top priorities at a total of about $56,000 and the street department listed two dump trucks at a total of about $250,000.
Commissioner Jeff Kuhn said a bucket truck used across departments is a necessity because of safety concerns. It will cost about at a total of about $65,000.
While city commissioners gave the go-ahead to advertise for bids on a contractor for a heating and air conditioning project at City Hall, an early $300,000 estimate for the project could be alleviated by grant money.
"We won't have an unbalanced budget," Mayor Jim Burke said. "That's what this process is all about. We'll work our way until we have a balanced budget."
Budget workshops are scheduled on the opposite Monday of City Council meetings until May, Meyer said.