FARMINGTON — Councilors went over a draft of the city's fiscal year 2015 budget line-by-line at a special work session Tuesday taking a first crack at setting the city's long-term building project priorities.
The work-in-progress budget includes five high-priority projects on the city's fiscal year 2015-2019 infrastructure capital improvement plan, including big ticket items like the Piñon Hills bridge and extension at $19 million, Porter Arroyo detention pond at $1.5 million, Fire Station No. 7 and associated equipment at $4 million, waterline replacements at $6 million, and phase two of the Civic Center's $3.6 million expansion.
The meeting gave councilors the opportunity to pore over a 308-page draft of the budget for a five-year projection of city projects.
Administrative Services Director Andy Mason and City Manager Rob Mayes presented the budget to City Council.
Mayes will present City Council with a formal preliminary budget on May 22. Two public meetings to gather input on the budget will be at 5 p.m., May 14, at Bonnie Dallas Senior Center and 7 p.m., May 15, at the Farmington Public Library. Councilors are expected to adopt a final budget in early June.
The city's total capital improvement budget in fiscal year 2015 came in at a little more than $56 million for projects including road repair work, enhancements at city parks and public works projects.
The bottom line — despite the sluggish local economy and gross receipts taxes that remain under pre-recession levels — was a city still able to deliver services, maintain infrastructure needs and ensure a quality of life for its citizens, Mayes said.
"Overall, I'm pretty optimistic about where things are — cautiously optimistic," Mayes said after the meeting. "The fact remains, however, that our tax revenue is still down from the highest point before the recession, in 2007. It's up 6 percent from last year, but we're in challenging times. We are, however, positioned in a solid way. We're doing more with less."
One thing that puts the city on solid financial ground is its "408 fund," a general fund savings account for surplus funds that can be used for capital projects such as roof repairs or purchasing city vehicles.
The Piñon Hills bridge and extension project was given special attention. The city is in the process of applying for a fourth time to receive federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, discretionary grant funding to help move the project ahead.
Mayor Tommy Roberts emphasized the project's importance, saying he would consider the option of a tax increase, if necessary, to fund it.
Roberts told the council the funding required is "pretty significant" and could impact other "programs and services the citizens of Farmington have come to expect."
"I think this council will have to give serious consideration to just how important that project is because I don't think we can continue to argue it's the highest priority and not try to do something to fund it," he said, adding that "doing something may involve letting the voters decide whether it's important enough to do by helping fund it through a local tax increase.
"I know this council has in the past indicated a desire not to look at tax increases," he said. "But there comes a time when we have to take a look at the future and actually provide some meat to our talk about what our priorities are. And this is a project that has been designated as our highest priority for a number of years and yet we haven't been able to fund it."
Councilor Dan Darnell echoed the mayor's support for the Piñon Hills bridge project and emphasized the city's effective fiscal stewardship.
"We're spending the people's money as wisely as we can," Darnell said.
Roberts also talked about the possibility of an expanded tax base courtesy of an expected oil-and-gas boom that could help fund city projects.