The Cortez City Council approved the proposed 2020 budget at its regular meeting Tuesday night.
The budget development process began in July, with two budget-related work sessions Nov. 5 and 6. Along with the budget, they also set the mill levy, or the property tax rate.
“The development of the proposed 2020 fiscal year budget (2020 budget) is the beginning of a long journey for the City of Cortez (the City),” City Manager John Dougherty wrote in the proposed budget. “The City is on a journey to build a disciplined, deliberate, efficient, transparent and accountable government in delivering services to the community.”
The vote was 4-3, with councilors Ty Keel, Sue Betts and Orly Lucero casting the nay votes.
They approved general fund expenditures of about $12.25 million, with total operating expenditures of $30.1 million. By comparison, the estimated general fund expenditures last year for 2019 were $13.69 million, with total fund expenditures estimated at $31.7 million.
The mill levy was set at 1.29 mills.
Staff noted that the city’s current financial situation influenced how the 2020 budget was developed. Dougherty wrote in the proposed budget that previous years’ revenue estimates were “significantly over actual revenues,” which presented some budgeting issues.
“Additionally, as financial statement audits are delayed for the years 2016-present, I have little confidence in the fund balances depicted in previous budgets,” Dougherty wrote. “Out of an abundance of caution, the 2020 budget was developed on the basis that revenues and expenditures balance (i.e., expenditures do not exceed revenues).”
He added that in fiscal year 2020 the city would begin conducting “periodic audits of sales, lodgers and use tax collections and remittances” to ensure a “level playing field” for all vendors and to make sure that the city received its appropriate share of tax revenues.
One contentious item debated at a few budget meetings this month was the proposed conversion to an automated timecard system, rather than asking employees to fill out timesheets.
Finance Director Ben Burkett said that by outsourcing payroll through a Human Capital Management solution, they could see significant savings by reducing time entry errors and by allowing current financial staff to focus on accounting duties.
They expect to save at least $170,000 annually by transitioning to an HCM system.
Currently, the city’s accounting position focuses on both accounting and payroll, with payroll taking up 60-70% of the time. By outsourcing payroll, staff will be able to perform other accounting duties, along with helping to oversee city funds and reporting, according to staff.
Some councilors and staff expressed misgivings about an HCM system because it would involve outsourcing to another company and because of the presumption of “time theft” by city employees.
“The reason I like to keep it in-house, is because we advertise ‘shop Cortez’ and ‘keep everything local,’” Councilor Orly Lucero said at the Nov. 26 meeting.
During the public hearing portion of the meeting, associate city planner Neva Connolly also expressed opposition to the HCM system. After thanking the city for continuing to fund the employee wellness program, she questioned the expense of outsourcing the HCM system, adding that she had doubts as to whether or not the city’s technology could handle such an upgrade.
“As for us employees, we are a small city, and we are not cogs in a machine, nor is there any reason to act as though we are,” she said. “I’ve seen no indication that our supervisors and directors need oversight and assistance with their employees and their time management.”
The item is expected to go out to bid in coming months.
Also at the public hearing, Jim Reser of the Cortez Area Chamber of Commerce told the council it had not included $1,500 in membership dues for the Chamber of Commerce in the proposed 2020 budget. Councilors added the fees back into the proposed budget and approved it in a 5-2 vote prior to the official budget adoption, with councilors Lucero and Gary Noyes opposing the motion.