Special to the PRESS
By JARED HOCKEMA
Port Isabel City Manager
The PRESS recently published an article about the City’s financial performance in Fiscal Year 2013-2014, in which the city incurred losses of $492,731 in the General Fund. This loss followed a previously-reported General Fund deficit of $889,176 in Fiscal Year 2012-2013.
The City’s financial condition was addressed during the budget process last year, and as we move towards finalizing the budget for next year, I want to take a moment to update the citizens of Port Isabel on the City’s progress towards the goal of a balanced, sustainable budget.
As of 2015, the City was budgeted for 101 full-time equivalent positions. In the proposed 2016-2017 budget, the City will be funding 71 positions, which is a reduction of 30. This has been accomplished through attrition or voluntary departures; no employees have been laid off.
In making these changes, we’ve re-aligned some employee’s job duties, combining some positions and adding new responsibilities to others. Along the way, we’ve used some of the savings from the eliminated positions to increase the wages of the City’s lowest paid employees, as well as to compensate employees for new responsibilities and to retain employees with in-demand skills.
Prior to the adoption of the current budget, 18 city employees were being paid minimum wage, and 26 less than $8 per hour. The current budget increased all City employees to at least $8 per hour, and the proposed budget for next year will raise all City employees to at least $9 per hour. We’ve also included increases for police officers, 911 dispatchers and EMS personnel, to make our wages more competitive with other agencies, and attract and retain the best-qualified personnel for our City.
Apart from being the right thing to do, these changes help support the goal of fiscal sustainability, by lowering the City’s exposure to increased health care costs through a reduction in headcount, and mitigating the potential impact of future increases to the minimum wage by focusing pay raises on the City’s lowest-paid employees.
Meanwhile, realignment and consolidation of some positions is making the City more efficient. Here’s a few examples: A shift in administrative personnel has freed up two new police patrol positions. The consolidation of the animal control and code enforcement departments has paved the way for increased code enforcement presence. The realignment of public works crews has made the department more flexible and productive.
Another highlight of the budgetary changes is the reduction in expenses and increase in revenues, which when combined with our reduced payroll costs, has allowed us to fully fund the City’s debt service requirements for the first time in several years. As we move forward, we will continue looking for opportunities to cut costs or increase revenues, with a long term goal of rebuilding the city’s fund balance, and freeing up funds for infrastructure projects.
Restoring the City’s fund balance is particularly important because of our coastal location. A hurricane could disrupt the City’s revenue stream and create large recovery costs. Likewise, years of deferred maintenance means that our City’s streets, drains and other public infrastructure are in need of an upgrade.
A budget, at its core, is an expression of priorities. While the City of Port Isabel may never have enough resources to meet every desire of the public, it can work to meet its citizen’s most important needs. As we move forward with this process, I appreciate the public’s patience, the guidance of the City commission and the dedication of our employees.
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