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Councilors express reservations about proposed budget

Roswell City Councilor Juan Oropesa speaks at a special city council meeting Thursday on his concerns about the amount of money proposed to be held in reserve in the city’s preliminary fiscal year 2022 budget. (Juno Ogle Photo)

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The Roswell City Council failed to adopt the $128 million preliminary fiscal year 2022 budget in a special meeting Thursday evening, with several councilors expressing concern about the amount kept in reserve rather than using part of that money for city services.

The preliminary budget needs to be submitted to the state by June 1 but does not require approval of the council to do so.

“We would like to have everybody on board because this is the first time we’ve explained this budget for next year,” City Manager Joe Neeb said after the meeting.

The council will meet at 5 p.m. Thursday to again to discuss and consider the resolution that would adopt the proposed budget. Neeb said the additional meeting should not prevent the city from meeting the June 1 deadline.

The council will review and consider approval of the final budget July 22, after final cash balances from the current budget have been calculated. July 1 is the start of the 2022 fiscal year.

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Although five councilors voted in favor of adopting the preliminary budget as presented, a resolution must receive the vote of the majority of the body — six councilors — no matter how many are present.

Voting in favor of the budget were Jacob Roebuck, Judy Stubbs, Jeanine Best, Angela Moore and Barry Foster, who attended virtually. Juan Oropesa and George Peterson voted against.

Councilor Jason Perry was absent from the meeting. Margaret Kennard attended part of the meeting virtually but left by the time the vote was taken nearly two hours after it started. Savino Sanchez, who attended the meeting in person, had also left the meeting by the time of the vote.

Oropesa, along with Peterson and Kennard, questioned the need for the city to keep four months’ worth of operating expenses in a reserve fund.

The state requires only one month’s reserve, but in preparing the fiscal year 2021 budget amid the early days of the pandemic, the city put aside three months’ worth of expenses.

According to calculations done by Juan Fuentes, administrative services director, the four months’ reserve totals approximately $9.4 million.

Neeb explained that, in case of an emergency that might affect revenue, the city would need time to adjust.

“The whole idea of having four months of reserves is to give us four months to adjust. The longer that time frame is, the less intensive the adjustments have to be,” he said.

Neeb said most businesses budget for three or four months’ reserve and he would not recommend saving more than that.

“We’re taking people’s tax dollars and we should be putting them to work. We should be doing something fantastic with it,” he said.

Doing something with more of those tax dollars is what Oropesa, Peterson and Kennard said should be done.

Oropesa said he would be OK with a three-month reserve — about $7 million. He suggested the difference could be put toward the roads fund or providing admission assistance to the Spring River Zoo or Roswell Museum and Art Center for children.

In the 2021 budget, the zoo and museum were required to begin a cost recovery program, generating a certain percentage of their own revenue through admission fees. The goal is for each to eventually generate 70% of the revenue needed to pay expenses, rather than being fully funded by the general fund.

“My concern is that in some way we are depriving the kids that cannot go to the zoo or whatever other function there is. We have the money, so why not use it?” Oropesa said.

Peterson said he agreed with putting more money into the roads fund or the city could pay down more debt or build restrooms for the splash pads at Poe Corn Park and Carpenter Park.

Roebuck and Best spoke in favor of the four months’ reserve.

“It’s an insurance policy to keep our city moving forward during hard times,” Best said. “We probably wouldn’t have had to cut our employees so hard during COVID,” she said.

Roebuck said the reserve gives the public and businesses confidence that city services would continue in a financial emergency.

“Just the minimum the state requires is a very thin, thin margin. They continue to provide value the larger they are. It does provide that stability and that confidence that there’s not going to be an interruption of services should some sort of dramatic event happen,” Roebuck said.

Following the failed vote, Roebuck encouraged councilors to prepare amendments to the resolution for the council to discuss at the next meeting.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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