LAFAYETTE -- After hearing that the city can likely balance next year's budget without the help of new taxes, Lafayette leaders will not pursue a voter survey to gauge residents' opinions about possible solutions to a budget shortfall -- including whether they'd support a sales tax increase.
The city council voted 4-0 this week to defer the "voter priority survey" it has been discussing since late March after receiving encouraging news from city staff about next year's budget. Vice Mayor Brandt Andersson was absent and did not vote.
Pitched by City Manager Steve Falk, the survey was touted as a way to gauge voters' thoughts on issues including road repairs, emergency services and rising police costs in the face of an initial projected $256,000 general fund budget shortfall next year.
The city said the survey would allow residents to weigh in on ways to solve the budget problem, including whether to reduce or eliminate "certain less essential programs" such as library hours, transportation programs and code enforcement.
The city says it faces a shortfall due to a 9 percent (or roughly $400,000) cost increase next year for police services, contracted from the county. Falk said further work on the 2014-15 budget -- which will come before the full council in May -- shows that if the city maintains its current service levels, with the exception of a recommended $100,000 in public works reductions, the budget will be "a little more than $200,000 out of balance."
Falk also suggested there are one-time opportunities to balance the budget by using reserve money. "For one year, you would be in balance," he said.
But the city could be out an additional $200,000 if the council approves a request from Police Chief Eric Christensen to beef up his department by 11/2 more positions, to respond to an uptick in property crimes.
"If you seek to grant the police chief his positions, you'll be another $200,000 in the hole," Falk told the council.
Still, the city manager said he did not believe Lafayette was facing a budget emergency despite the rising costs of police services, projected to increase about 7 percent annually. Post-recession property taxes are rising, Falk said, which is good news for the city budget.
"I don't think you're at a budget crisis but you will have budget challenges this year and probably for the next couple of years," Falk said.
Residents seemed to welcome the council moving away from a voter survey and sales tax increase.
"It appears that an element of reality is being interjected, realizing that with some wise stewardship of the budget, perhaps we don't need to discuss adding another tax to the citizens of Lafayette," said resident Michael Walker.
Resident Guy Atwood reiterated his belief that the city is facing a long-term budget problem and suggested any future survey should include detailed costs.
Mayor Don Tatzin said he and Andersson will continue to research Web-based alternatives to traditional telephone-based surveys in the future.