Exeter tax revenues see a healthy increase
Things are looking up in Exeter, including revenue.
After two years of cut backs and belt tightening, the Exeter City Council approved a $7.9 million budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year at its June 25 meeting. The 8.5% increase in expenditures was due to projected increases in revenues for the new year, which began on July 1. General Fund revenues are expected to increase by 6% to more than $3.6 million through the next 12 months. While most revenue sources for the City are slightly down or stagnant, the City is projecting a nearly $200,000 increase in non-property taxes. Most of that increase is expected in sale and use tax, which is projected to increase by 30% to $615,000. The increase is proof that the local economy is slowly improving.
Exeter is also projecting its transient lodging tax, or hotel tax, to more than double from $33,000 to $73,000. The increase has little to do with an improving economy and is a direct result of the City’s passage of Measure O on the November 2012 ballot. The initiative increased the City’s tax on hotel rooms from 6%, the lowest in the County, to 10% the next lowest in the County along with Porterville and Lindsay.
With additional revenues came additional expenditures that were long overdue. The largest increase in the City’s General Fund came in the Police Department, which saw an increase of $200,000 or about 9.5% increase. The largest chunk of that increase came in the department’s capital improvement fund. Exeter is in the process of purchasing nine new vehicles through a combination of grant funding, financing and a downpayment of $70,000.
Police Chief Cliff Bush said department will purchase the Ford Interceptor SUV because of the extra interior room for officers. The SUVs are also all wheel drive and a 3.7L V6 engine.
The cost of each vehicle will be about $24,500 before adding emergency equipment. Once the patrol car is fully fitted for patrol, the cost per vehicle will end up being around $41,000.
Part of the PD’s increase also came in the K9 program. The department is budgeting $5,000 for food and veterinary bills. However, Bush said those would be paid out of community donations to the K-9 program, largely raised through its Policeman’s Ball and K9 sponsorship program with local businesses. EPD currently has three K9s and plans on adding one more. Bush said having four K9 units means there is at least one K9 on duty at any given time.
“We will not be getting the fourth K9 this next year but we are moving forward with getting four,” Bush said. “That was the goal I set when we started the program.”
The Recreation Department will see a healthy increase of $65,000. Most of that will be for improvements to Dobson Field. The City has budgeted $15,000 for a new scoreboard at Lions Stadium and $35,000 to replace a wooden light pole on the west field at Dobson. City Administrator Randy Groom said if the City decides it will begin the process of replacing light poles to keep the fields lit at night, the total cost of replacing the four other wooden light poles would be about $210,000 in the next two to three years.
“It’s reasonable to assume that they are aging at about the same rate and will need to be replaced sooner rather than later,” he said. “There is a larger discussion that needs to take place before replacing any light poles.”
Community Services Director Felix Ortiz said the electricity to run the lights is included in the league fees for city recreation teeball, baseball and softball, so there is currently no mechanism to recoup the expense other than raising recreation fees. The City Council did not vote or offer any consensus on whether or not they wanted to replace the remaining light poles.
Exeter will also have more money to spend on curbs, gutters and sidewalks ($74,000) and housing loans and grants ($400,000) as part of a $580,000 Community Development Block Grant from the State.
Two key items of interest to the public that saw last minute increases were the City’s contributions to the Exeter Chamber of Commerce and the KJUG Summer Concert Series. The City doubled its “donation” to the KJUG free Summer Concert Series from $4,000 to $8,000. Groom said KJUG informed the City the price per concert was increased from $1,000 to $2,000 per concert for the City’s contribution. There was some discussion about splitting the four concerts between the end of one fiscal year and beginning of another, but Groom said it all ends up being the same amount of money anyway.
“If we think the economic impact of the concerts is significant, which we’ve said it is, we need to budget the full $8,000 for all four concerts,” Groom said.
The Chamber had originally been scheduled to receive $20,000 out of the General Fund for the second straight year. However, Mayor Robyn Stearns shared a story about the importance of the chamber’s work in promoting a positive atmosphere. A realtor with Coldwell Banker/J. Heaton & Associates, Stearns said a woman from out of the area called her the other day interested in buying a home in Exeter. When Stearns inquired about why the woman chose Exeter the woman replied, “I searched small, charming city on the Internet and Exeter was the first one that came up.”
“The money we fund the chamber with comes back to us in a lot of ways,” Stearns said. “I think it’s money well spent.”
Councilmember Ted Macaulay said it was time to give the chamber a “bump” in funding as home prices have stabilized and sales and property tax revenues are on the rise. Mayor Pro-Tem Jack Allwardt and Teresa Boyce provided the consensus along with Stearns. Councilmember Dale Sally, Jr. was absent.
Exeter will see a decrease in its Measure R funding from last year but will be moving forward with a key road project. As part of its Southwest Specific Plan, the City will pipe the People’s Ditch underground along Belmont Road, will widen Belmont Road and acquire right of way on Visalia Road to improve the intersection with turn lanes at Belmont Road and Visalia Road. The City has budgeted $50,000 PS & E, $108,948 for right-of-way acquisition along Visalia Road and $923,036 to improve the intersection at Belmont Road and Visalia Road.