Dover moves smaller proposed FY2021 budget forward

DOVER — It was far from an easy chore for Dover City Manager Donna Mitchell and her staff to draft a fiscal year 2021 budget amid the uncertain economy that has unfolded throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

However, they obviously did something right as Dover City Council, which had allocated three nights of meetings to review the city’s planned budget for fiscal year 2019, gave the proposed FY-2021 budget its unanimous preliminary approval at the end of just one meeting on Monday night.

The first formal reading of the budget will take place at the city council meeting next Monday with the second reading and anticipated adoption of the budget expected to take place at the June 22 council meeting.

“The city staff provided a great deal of assistance in meeting the challenges we faced with the presentment of a balanced and policy compliant budget, especially in the middle of a global pandemic,” Mrs. Mitchell said. “The proposed budget reflects our continued commitment to providing cost-effective, efficient, basic municipal services for our citizens, visitors and business community.

“The proposed budget maintains the increased level of resources for public works, inspections and code enforcement.”

The FY-2021 budget includes no increases in property tax. However, property reassessments could lead to higher or decreased rates for city residents.

The city’s total financial plan for fiscal year 2021 is proposed to be $138,932,900. The plan includes an operating budget of $126,270,200 and a capital investments budget of $12,662,700. The total general fund expenditures are $46,412,000.

The spending plan represents a decrease of 6 percent over the original fiscal year 2020 financial plan of $147,799,200.

Matt Harline, assistant city manager, said residents will see a net decrease in their electric bills which should offset expected increases in water and wastewater bills.

“Due to flat revenues there are no added positions when it comes to full-time employees, but there are also no cutbacks after we added some positions last year,” Mr. Harline said. “We’ve got some projects that we are looking forward to putting into place this year, including a splash pad and building in Dover Park, among many other projects.”

Dover City Council President William “Bill” Hare was impressed at Monday night’s presentation.

“I thought the budget meeting went well,” said Council President Hare. “Everything went along smoothly, and the citizens of Dover did not receive a property tax increase. I think that’s very important, and there’s not going to be any decrease in services and, hopefully, everything’s going to stay the same.”

The city was forced to postpone the development of a stormwater utility, which will now be considered in winter 2021.

The budget addressed long-range plans to address the city’s aging facilities, park improvements and to upgrade HVAC systems in city buildings.

While there will be rate increases in water and wastewater (sewer) for needed improvements to infrastructure, as well as establishing a reserve in the wastewater fund over time, Mrs. Mitchell said the budget offsets the increase in water and wastewater fees with an increase in the PCA credit for electric rates.

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen was impressed by the work of Mrs. Mitchell and her management staff.

“The fiscal budget presented reflects on the entire city team — mayor, council and City Manager (Mrs.) Mitchell and her staff — the ability to continue the operations of the community, while anticipating a renewed economic comeback while conservatively anticipating future revenues and providing the quality services our citizens have come to expect.”

City Councilman David Anderson said the smaller proposed budget for FY-2021 was just a sign of the times.

“The budget was a document focused on meeting our needs while living the vision and values we adopted,” Councilman Anderson said. “It was well designed for the times.

“The highlights for me are these: We are cutting commercial electric rates. We are committing to renewable energy at a sustainable price that will benefit our citizens and customers. We are finally updating our water infrastructure systematically. We are no longer neglecting our parks. They will be well funded. Economic development both downtown, citywide and in cooperation with the county is locked in. LED lighting technology will help both safety and cost citywide. We are maintaining a full police department, though not expanding.”

City Councilman Fred Neil said the city manager’s office did a solid job considering the extraordinary times in which they had to formulate a plan for the city’s future.

“Under very trying circumstances, I thought the city manager and her team provided us with a very solid budget taking into consideration that our citizen taxpayers and our businesses, large and small, have taken a financial hit due to the COVID-19 virus,” Councilman Neil said. “Mr. Neil said he pressed the issue of delaying the implementation of the service fees on water, wastewater and electric service by several months due to the financial distress that has occurred to the economy.

“City Manager (Mrs.) Mitchell pointed out the dropping of user rates negate the actual expense to the majority of city residents and businesses, which convinced me not to seek a change in the budget,” he said. “Those service fees are important as that money is used to maintain and replace the old pipes, pumps, and other equipment that allows us to get the water and electricity to where it has to go. Emergency breakdowns cost more than timely replacements.”

In the end, city council members moved the proposed budget forward at the special budget review, which took around two hours to conduct.

“It was challenging,” Mr. Harline said, of putting together a budget during the COVID-19 crisis. “It was difficult to communicate some changes and sometimes it took a little bit longer to get information back from departments. It was interesting.

“But I do believe that the city is in good financial condition and we’re going to weather this downturn in our economy.”