By Jason Stone, INDEPENDENT NEWSMEDIA
Surprise is growing, so it’s no shock its budget is expanding along with the city itself.
City Manager Mike Frazier on April 16 unveiled his recommended $414 million budget for fiscal year 2020, which is up 7.6% from last year’s $384.6 million total.
Mr. Frazier said he put together a budget that factors in all the city departments’ future needs.
“This year, the theme of our budget process was growth,” Mr. Frazier said. “We asked, ‘What is it that you need to provide the same quality services and infrastructure to our community as we have the year before?’ I believe we have done an excellent job in doing that.”
Now, it’s up to the City Council – and the public – to make the next move.
The community is invited to attend the Tuesday, May 7 meeting where the Council will vote on city’s largest budget ever, after hearing some public input.
Once the tentative budget passes, the Council will gather one more time to finalize it on Tuesday, June 4, and it would take effect July 1.
Highlights of Mr. Frazier’s budget:
- It requests 18 full-time position additions in public safety, including five firefighters, five sworn police officers and three EMTs and paramedics.
- The Water Resource Management Department needs nine full-time employees.
- More than half of the budget (53%) goes to operating expenses, which includes the city’s General Fund and other funds.
- About a quarter of the budget ($106.3) is set aside for the city’s Capital Improvement Plan for infrastructure improvements across the city – including operation costs for the under-construction Asante Library and the building of Fire Station 308.
The budget is also factoring in Proposition 206 funding again so the city can pay for increases in the state’s minimum wage for part-time employees. Those costs will total around $100,000 for this year and next year.
Other additional costs that have been accounted for include medical premium hikes, cost-of-living increases, pension contribution rate rises and software licenses.
Mr. Frazier said a favorable economy and more people moving in should account for revenues expected to grow about 7% in the next fiscal year.
The recommended FY2020 budget is up about $29 millions, thanks largely to movement on capital projects such as the library and fire station that voters approved through a bond in 2017.
“We’re going to start building those projects,” said Assistant Finance Director Holly Osborne.
The city’s General Fund, however, is projected to end the year with a balance of $37.8 million, which is more than half a million dollars lower than what the city is expecting to start the year with.
That’s a concern to District 6 Councilman Chris Judd, who serves southeast parts of Surprise.
“We’re projecting this as a fat year, not a lean year – a decent economy,” Mr. Judd said. “I would rather see our ending balance higher in a fat year, so we have money and not having to lay people off during the lean years. Because the lean years are coming – maybe next year, maybe five years, who knows.”
Finance Director Andrea Davis told Mr. Judd the city’s robust projects are keeping the city in good shape with its General Fund.
“We had a couple of good years where we were very conservative in our budget,” Ms. Davis said. “So, we feel like we have the cash on hand. We feel confident in the year going forward that we will capture the growth and maximize it.”
Of the General Fund projections, nearly half of that goes to public safety (44%).
General government operations (28%) take up more than a quarter of that fund, followed by community services (16%), public works (7%) and community development (5%).
The city’s switch over to electronic water meters is also a new part of the budget.
It includes $4.3 million for the city to convert about 16,000 meters. Water Resource Management Director Terry Lowe said the new meters are expected to pay for themselves in about five years and should give the city about 10 years of life for each box.
“The reliability of these meters are about triple what normal meters are,” Mr. Lowe said.
Ms. Davis said the money for the changeover has been phased in over several fiscal years.
“But this budget gives the authority and approval to go forward and do it all this fiscal year, and the contractor believes we can do it,” Ms. Davis told the Council.
Ms. Davis said once the new system is up and running, employees will no longer have to come out to homes to read the meter. Instead, they’ll only make home visits if a meter isn’t working or there are other issues.
As for the meters themselves, Mr. Lowe said the battery-powered units will also come with warrantees and guarantees on the product.
“There will be efficiencies that come in the system,” Mr. Lowe said. “They are going to be more efficient in their reading, more accurate in their reading, because they are electronical based.”
Surprise’s budget has been growing just like its population.
Ms. Osborn showed the Council how the city’s population growth of 1,783% since 1990 was best in the Valley, over other growing cities and towns such as Goodyear (1,207%), Gilbert (744%) and Avondale (405%).
Since 2000, Surprise has had the third-largest growth in the Valley, with 14% more people, behind only Goodyear (31%) and Gilbert (19%). Avondale and Tempe are right on Surprise’s heals, however, with 13% more people than 19 years ago.
Surprise residents can follow all City Council meetings at SurpriseAZ.gov/surprisetv.
The budget process can be followed at SurpriseAZ.gov/budget.
FY2020 PROPOSED BUDGET
- Total budget: $414 million, up 7.6% over FY2019
- General Fund: $37.8 million projected end of year
- Next up: Public hearing (Tuesday, May 7) and final budget adoption (Tuesday, June 4)