The City of Scottsbluff finds itself in an unusual position as it prepares its 2020-21 budget — it needs to spend an additional $3.45 million.
After running numbers and putting the budget through state forms, interim city manager Rick Kuckkahn said meeting state mandates will require the city to spend $3 million more than what had been on the initial plans.
Finance director Liz Hilyard said there is excess cash in some of the city’s 27 different funds. Those excesses have built over the past four to five years either as a result of underspending or revenues coming in higher than projected.
City funds are specific as to what funds can be spent for what projects, so Kuckkahn said these specific monies cannot be spent, for example, on a stormwater project unless that project is associated with a street repair.
The biggest piece of the $3.45 million pie would be a $2 million expenditure Kuckkahn suggested go to repairs on Avenue B.
“Avenue B is long overdue for repair,” Kuckkahn said. “It’s going to be a total mess in the not-too-distant future unless you do something now. Whether it’s one year more, two years more. ... Avenue B needs work. It needs to happen, and it needs to happen soon.”
The city’s water towers are in need of paint inside the tanks. That would come in at $450,000.
“The tanks are overdue for cleaning and painting inside to keep our water quality up,” Kuckkahn said.
Another $250,000 he suggested go to the Community Redevelopment Authority to use toward a building facade improvement program similar to what has been done over the past year on East Overland, but made available city wide.
Kuckkahn suggested $250,000 to go to a workforce development program endorsed by the LB 840 Committee. The program suggested could be used in a matching system to help businesses pay for expenses such as internships, apprenticeships or sign-on bonuses. The funds would be contingent on the worker staying in the area for a five-year period. If the worker leaves the area before the five-year period expires, that individual, not the business, would be responsible for paying back the investment.
“It’s basically for training the workforce, and keeping them here in the area,” economic development director Starr Lehl said.
Kuckkahn proposed to the city council setting aside $500,000 for projects the council sees as priorities. Suggestions included improvements to parks, police and fire facilities, a splash pad and lighting at the Landers Soccer Complex. The soccer complex lighting would not be for competitions on the fields, but rather lighting around the complex and parking area.
Mayor Raymond Gonzales said in addition to the LB 840 Committee workforce development funds, perhaps other city boards should be involved in suggesting projects.
“I’m just wondering if we reach out to the Parks Board, the Library Board, all those volunteer boards that serve in a capacity of advisory, just for some feedback from them,” he said. “Maybe they have some projects that we’re just not seeing. I think it would be good to give them an opportunity to weigh in.”
Kuckkahn said he was pleased to see the council seeming to agree with the proposals for Avenue B, the water towers, the revitalization program and the workforce training initiative.
“If those things ring true, and I’m not asking you to make a commitment on them right now, but if those things make sense to you, they make a lot of sense to me,” Kuckkahn said. “Going through with Liz on the finance side of this thing, those are the places we can pull this money from comfortably without getting ourselves in trouble.”
Kuckkahn said with the uncertainty of COVID-19, he didn’t want to dip further into the city’s reserve fund, instead choosing to keep that buffer at $3 million.