Winter woes having impact on city budget

Contingency lines in budgets are generally used to cover unexpected expenses – paying the bills to cover the unforeseen.

The city of Dunkirk had the largest Fund II (water fund) contingency line in several years when the 2014 budget was adopted by the Common Council. It was a good thing too, as the nastiest winter in years has taken its toll on water lines, streets and budget. Council’s Finance Committee reviewed several budget transfers at its meeting, as Fiscal Affairs Officer Rich Halas presented a report on the latest budget-line transfers.

The Fund I (general fund) 2014 contingencies line was set at $58,203.

In 2013 it was set at $52,136, in 2012 it was $67,555. Fund II’s 2014 starting point was $150,978 while in 2013 it was $94,583 with 2012 starting at $39,521. Fund III (sewer fund) began 2014 at $50,804, up from 2013’s amount of $10,000 and 2012’s figure of $50,390.

After the latest transfers Fund I is at $44,203, Fund II is at $37,178 and Fund III is at $49,804.

“I have been submitting these all along,” Halas said of the transfers. “Last year we were nowhere near this severe problem. A lot of them have to do with the large number of water main breaks, and we associate the related costs to them.”

Halas’ report contained figures showing anticipated traffic control repairs were already over the 2014 budget figure of $4,000.

“Last year we were well over $4,000 and I was told that a lot of these repairs had to be made. … I think this is something you’re going to have to follow up at the public works meeting to see what’s going on,” Halas said, adding he doesn’t transfer funds without the approval of (Mayor Anthony J. Dolce) and the department head.

Heating expenses are straining the budget just five months into the year, as $6,000 was added to the Senior Center heating line, which was $3,800 in 2013 and has already hit $4,464.

“This will also be a problem with the other funds. Just because we didn’t go over we’re very near going over and you’ll see that,” Halas stated, adding the lines will go over unless temperatures stay in the 70s through December.

The gas bill for the water treatment plant laboratory has already run over its budgeted amount by $4,253 and to cover that $10,000 was transferred from Fund II’s contingencies line. Halas said there would be more coming out of Fund II contingencies due to the water breaks

“It will be very very tight the remainder of the year, there’s no way around it,” he stated, adding there were several repair projects yet to added, or subtracted, to the budget figures.

Fund III saw just $1,000 taken from contingencies this round for lab equipment.

Councilman Michael Michalski chairs the committee and said the committee had to the large number of transfers.

“What we’re still paying for is the repairs to the water lines for the unprecedented number of waterline breaks we’ve incurred this winter, as well as our heating cost. We’re no different from anybody else, we have buildings that we have to heat and maintain and the cold winter obviously took its toll on our budget as far as heating cost and repairs to our waterlines,” he added. “Unfortunately, the water line expenses keep coming and there’s some that just happened that haven’t even been accounted for yet. We’re not looking at it budgetwise right now, so I’m sure they’ll still be more to come and we’ll try to keep on top of them as best we can. Luckily, we had a pretty healthy balance in our contingencies in our water fund, but that’s been depleted quite substantially from what’s happened on these water repairs.

Michalski said council is trying to stay on top of the budget situation.

“We’re trying to take a more proactive approach rather than ‘oh my gosh, this line is running negative $30,000 or $40,000. What do we do?’ So it’s just a little bit more painful as you go instead of dealing with all the pain once at the end of the year,” he explained.

Council is scheduled to meet in regular session Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall.