City officials say careful budgeting, frugal departmental spending and the results of cost-saving measures implemented years ago have contributed to a major boost in the city’s reserve fund. Now, the city’s comptroller is recommending that some of the fund balance go towards paring down Kingston’s debt by paying cash for items — from cop cars to lawnmowers — that usually go on the city’s credit card.
“Fund balance is a good thing, rating agencies love to see that,” said Comptroller John Tuey on Tuesday, May 16. “But you have to balance that against the needs of taxpayers and saving them money going forward.”
Tuey’s remarks come as the city closes out its 2016 budget cycle with an $823,613 increase in the unassigned fund balance. The reserve fund now stands at $5.51 million or 13.3 percent of the current budget’s total expenditures. The city’s fund balance policy calls for maintaining a reserve between 10 and 13 percent of current budgeted spending. Tuey said a combination of higher-than-projected revenue and lower-than-projected costs had combined to create a $1.6 million surplus for the 2016 budget. $775,000 of that, money tapped from the fund balance to push down last year’s tax levy, will be returned to the reserve fund, leaving at total increase of more than $800,000.
Tuey added that the city had saved significantly on employee salaries by delaying the replacement of vacant positions and saved money on fuel costs as well. On the revenue side, sales taxes came in $230,000 over projections. Tuey also credited department heads for hewing closely to their assigned budgets and seeking additional cost savings throughout the year. “Every department did a good job holding the line on spending,” said Tuey.
It will be up to Mayor Steve Noble and the Common Council to decide what to do with the cash infusion. Lawmakers may simply leave the fund balance untouched to await unforeseen and expensive developments. But Tuey said the city could strengthen its financial position even more by using some of the money to decrease debt load. Tuey’s plan calls for using $441,440 of the $5.5 million fund balance to fund vehicle purchases and other short term capital investments. Past practice has been for the city to bond for items, like police vehicles, that have a short shelf life as well as longer lived equipment and capital investments. By paying cash up front for the short-use items, Tuey said the city could save enough in interest costs to recoup the investment in a few years. The proposed drawdown would leave the fund balance at 12.2 percent of budgeted expenses, well within the policy guidelines.
“Now that we have some budgetary flexibility it makes sense to pay as we go for some of these things,” said Tuey.