Councilman Jason Sandel discusses the $6.5 million budget deficit Friday morning.
Councilman Jason Sandel discusses the $6.5 million budget deficit Friday morning. (Greg Yee/The Daily Times)
FARMINGTON — City council on Tuesday morning will consider authorizing use of up to $3.5 million in cash reserves to bridge the city's $6.5 million budget deficit.

City Manager Rob Mayes' fiscal year 2014 preliminary budget also includes $3 million in spending cuts.

A department-by-department special budget session is scheduled at 9 a.m. May 10 at city hall as an in-depth follow up on Tuesday's budget presentation.

In spite of differing opinions on the council of how much, if any, cash to use, Councilman Dan Darnell said he is confident the mayor and councilmembers will find a solution.

"We'll all come together," Darnell said in a phone interview Friday afternoon. "We'll coalesce."

Darnell said he supports the use of some cash reserves because of the extraordinary budget deficit.

"We've been planning for this day," he said. "Do we want to use all the cash reserves? Absolutely not, but we have to think about cash before we cut services."

Mayor Tommy Roberts declined to comment directly on the fiscal year 2014 preliminary budget on Friday afternoon because he had not yet examined the roughly 700 page document.

Roberts, however, gave an overview of what to expect from the coming week.

"The city manager will be responding to city council questions for information," he said. "On Friday, we'll provide the opportunity to focus on department head reports. It will be an opportunity for council to call on department heads for questions. It's conceivable that (Tuesday's discussion) will spill over into Friday, so I'll be flexible."

The proposed use of $3.5 million in city cash reserves is only an upper limit, Mayes said in a Friday phone interview.

"We never spend 100 percent of our budget," he said. "We're not proposing to spend $3.5 million. In actuality, it will likely be between $2 million and $2.5 million."

For Councilwoman Mary Fischer, this year truly presents an extraordinary budgeting situation.

"Nobody has a crystal ball," she said in a Friday phone interview. "Personally, I think we're in for some hard times for the next few years. I would be very interested to see where the cuts are going to take place."

A detailed look at city staffing levels should be a priority, Fischer said.

"I think we were a little cavalier in giving big raises to upper-level management," she said. "I don't think it would be unreasonable to roll them back. I don't think any of them were underpaid to begin with."

Council should also look at whether some city staff positions are needed, Fischer said.

"We worked for years without some of the positions that are there," she said. "I don't think we need to get quite down to how many paper clips are being used, but we need to take a close look at training. I think we need to look at the police department, travel, overall purchases — some of those overall things."

But for Fischer, the budget situation was not all bad news.

"I don't think that our economy is all doom and gloom," she said. "I'm pleased that there won't be any (utility) rate increases or (gross receipts tax) increases. We have cash. We're in a lot better shape than other communities, and I'm grateful for that, but we have to remember, it's not our money, it's the public's."

Nevertheless, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that Farmington is a safe and prosperous community, Fischer said, citing the Animas Valley Mall shooting late last month.

"This isn't a frontier town," she said. "It reminds me that we've regressed to the Old West. We have a lot of work to do. We just can't take the ostrich approach."

Greg Yee can be reached at gyee@daily-times.com; 505-564-4606. Follow him on Twitter @GYeeDT.