Gilbert prepares $613.3 million preliminary budget - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Gilbert prepares $613.3 million preliminary budget

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Posted: Thursday, May 19, 2011 3:09 pm | Updated: 2:32 pm, Tue May 24, 2011.

The Gilbert fiscal 2011-12 budget information packet given to the Town Council on Thursday - all 59 pages of it - is available on the town's website, and it might look like number and graph salad to many citizens.

But the numbers crunchers in Town Hall have been in the process of finalizing it. The $613.3 million budget was expected to receive preliminary approval on Thursday, with the public hearing and final adoption set for June 9.

Per state law, municipal budgets must have a preliminary legal limit and be balanced. The final dollar figure could be less, Gilbert budget administrator Dawn Irvine said.

"In a nutshell, what we're doing is looking to provide the same level of services as we have over the last year," Irvine said. "This does not restore anything that was cut over the last couple years, but the Council was adamant about maintaining our existing level of service."

As was the case last year, saving-fund transfers will be needed to balance the final budget. However, they are from an unexpected source - about $4.7 million that did not need to be transferred during 2010-11 because of general fund expenses that were lower than expected and town revenues stabilizing.

In a Council candidate forum hosted by the Tribune last month, vice mayor Les Presmyk said that 18 vacancies in the police department were not filled, adding the money was not the determining factor.

"We couldn't find anyone qualified enough to wear the Gilbert uniform," Presmyk said of the positions, which have been reinstated, with some of them filled.

A budget vote could be the last major Council action for Presmyk and fellow incumbents Dave Crozier and Linda Abbott. The three were defeated in Tuesday's election, with incumbent Ben Cooper and challengers Victor Petersen and Jordan Ray joining newcomer Eddie Cook - who garnered enough votes to be elected outright in March's primary - when the new Council is seated on June 23.

The staff vacancies have "created a strain for the town," Irvine said, but she added that some of them are starting to be filled. Irvine has recommended that the Council create two new staff positions, for a communications manager and purchasing manager.

On the revenue side, the town's sales-tax receipts have been higher than anticipated.

Also, since the town self-insures for staff health coverage, with the premiums based on claims history, Gilbert took a $1.5-million payment holiday, and another has been recommended by Irvine's office.

"We have a very healthy town staff, apparently," Irvine said.

Still, future budget deficits loom, and town officials have repeatedly said that savings-fund transfers cannot continue to be tapped to address the shortfall. A $6.9-million general-fund deficit is projected for fiscal 2012-13, rising to $15 million by 2014-15.

"The budget process has been a good one for this year," Cooper said. "There are some longer-term questions that we as a Council need to talk about that are more strategic. I talked about that through the campaign, and that's something I'm eager to work on."

Irvine is recommending "strategic investments" - such as the purchasing manager, which she feels will enable the town to acquire goods and services as cheaply and efficiently as possible - to attack the deficit. The three new Council members have been generally hostile to a tax increase, so that is likely off the table.

"Public safety needs to be funded with the first dollars," Ray said. "That was the message I had in the campaign, and I think that was one thing voters gravitated to."

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