When city commissioners approve the budget, the city's work isn't done. City staff spend the rest of the year monitoring and adjusting the budget to make sure the city doesn't spend more than the authorized amount.
“City-wide there are examples of how we are trying to be efficient, and how we are trying to be good stewards of city resources," said Lunda Asmani, assistant city manager for budget and finance.
At Tuesday's commission meeting, Asmani presented the city's first quarter financial review, covering Jan. 1-March 31, 2013. He talked about how the city started off 2013 and about the commission's role in the upcoming 2014 budget season.
Asmani said in addition to adopting the budget, the commissioners are tasked with setting policy for the city. For example, commissioners agreed they wanted to continue the city's domestic violence response program, even if the city didn't receive grants to fund it.
“This is something that the city is going to continue to do, and the city is going to fund this," he said.
Commissioners craft the community vision (identify priorities, brainstorm and discuss ideas) and educate voters.
“You have access to individuals that would walk up to you at a Wal-Mart, or a grocery store,” Asmani said. “... Part of your role is to have information to share with them so there is an accurate flow of information.”
Once commissioners have determined these policies, Asmani said administrators and staff take over the day-to-day operations of the municipality, such as repairing streets and picking up trash. They also manage the budget the commissioners adopted and often try to find ways to spend less than the allotted dollar amount.
“Our goal is to provide those services effectively and efficiently but to try not to fully spend those dollars that you give us," Asmani said.
One way the city has saved money is through shuffling the number and responsibilities of staff.
Prior to 2010, the city had a finance director (the position is similar to what Asmani now does); a risk manager in charge of risk management and employee safety; and a city controller overseeing city audits and accounting duties.
However, once the finance director retired, the position was replaced by the assistant city manager for budget and finance. After the city's risk manager retired, the position was not replaced, and now the assistant city manager has taken over some of those duties. The city controller position also was not filled after retirement. The combined annual savings from this "shuffle" was $158,252.
Another example is in the sanitation (trash collecting) department. Prior to 2012, the city had dual stream recycling, meaning glass, plastic, paper and other recyclables had to be separated. There was a semi-automated collection system with three-person truck crews.
After 2012, the city's new single-stream recycling system allowed people to put everything together in one bin, and the city also implemented an automated collection system with one-person truck crews. Now, the city can process 100 homes an hour, rather than 90. The city saw $104,587 in savings.
Suzanne Loomis, city engineer/director of public works, said the department tried to not rehire personnel after retirement to minimize layoffs, and they waited to implement full automation until they needed to replace the current trucks.
Total personnel expenses account for about 60 to 70 percent of overall costs city-wide, and Asmani anticipates the city will end the year below budget in this category. He said the city always budgets extra funds for unexpected events such as snowstorms and other “worst case scenarios” that may require staff overtime expenses.
“If those things were to happen, we want to be able to meet those obligations," he said.
Commissioner Leroy Koehn thanked Asmani and city staff for their efforts to save money.
“You are paying attention to that, and you are cutting costs in various ways,” Koehn said.
Commissioner Bob Smyth also asked other commissioners and staff to revisit an issue concerning sidewalks discussed at a previous meeting.
Garth Mock, who lives in the 400 block of West Broadway, asked commissioners to consider revising the city's sidewalk replacement policy and said he did not think it was fair to ask home owners to fund the entire cost of sidewalk replacement.
He recommended the city perhaps take out some of the sidewalks that receive less traffic, if the city cannot afford to maintain the current sidewalk system.
Smyth said not all Newton homes have sidewalks in front of them, and there are sidewalks in town in worse condition than Mock's. He thought changes should be made to the city's regulations to make it more fair for all residents.
“If we’re going to enforce it for one, we’re going to enforce it for all," he said.
Commissioners plan to discuss the issue further during a work session.