In Newport forum, Ingemann, Sumner say city budgeting smart; Gallagher, Flood hit surplusA projected budget surplus and growing fund balance that Newport City Council members seeking re-election say is a case of responsible budgeting and long-term planning came under fire from challengers this week in the candidates’ final televised forum before next month’s election.
A projected budget surplus and growing fund balance that Newport City Council members seeking re-election say is a case of responsible budgeting and long-term planning came under fire from challengers this week in the candidates’ final televised forum before next month’s election.
Newport’s preliminary 2013 budget proposes to take in roughly $600,000 more than the city will spend. City officials have said they plan to redirect those funds to an economic development fund and the city’s general fund reserve as a buffer against the unexpected loss of other revenue.
Incumbent council members Tom Ingemann and Bill Sumner defended the practice as sensible budgeting. The incumbents took issue with calling the additional $600,000 revenue in the projected budget a surplus, with Ingemann saying the “so-called surplus” is a “bad adjective used by the newspaper.”
The exchanges came during a forum hosted Monday night by the Bulletin and South Washington County Telecommunications Commission at Cottage Grove City Hall.
Newport has kept its property tax levy flat, shaved spending by reducing staff at City Hall and has used the savings to pad the city’s economic development fund and reduce its dependence on unreliable state aid dollars, Ingemann said. The city is also setting aside funds for a new city hall building in the future.
“I don’t think there’s a problem there,” he asserted.
Sumner also said calling the additional revenue that won’t be used to pay for operations or the city’s debt a surplus is unfair.
“It is, in fact, a reserve,” Sumner said, “a hedge against the unexpected loss of state aid dollars.”
Returning budget surpluses in Newport to residents would be similar to former Gov. Jesse Ventura’s effort to refund state budget surpluses, said Sumner, who is employed in the state’s revenue department.
“I think every reasonable household in Newport that has the opportunity to put some money aside for future unexpected costs and events would do that,” he said. “I think, as a council member, it’s a wise thing that we’re doing that.”
Mayoral challenger and current council member Steven Gallagher and council challenger Dan Flood, though, say the city needs to be more aggressive in how it spends on economic development efforts the projected 2013 surplus, as well as a comparable surplus it took in in 2012, and should return some of the revenue not being spent on city operations to taxpayers.
“It’s funny, last time the mayor ran [in 2008] he campaigned against having a surplus,” Gallagher said of incumbent Mayor Tim Geraghty, who withdrew from the forum Monday. The first-term councilman said the city already has an adequate fund balance and has said the city should better utilize its Economic Development Authority funds.
“We need to actually let the citizens of Newport have their money back,” Gallagher added. “They helped keep Newport alive for the last four, five years.”
Flood, a former planning commissioner, proposed keeping the surplus, but spending more of it on economic development programs with a more defined purpose tied to the dollars. He also said he would like to return some of the dollars taxpayers in the form of a lowered property tax levy in coming years.
“If we're going to [budget for a surplus], let’s spend it,” Flood said. “Let’s tell us where it's going to go; don’t just put it in the bank account and hide it from the citizens. It is the citizens' money, not the city's.”
Another City Council candidate, Katy McElwee-Stevens, also pulled out of Monday’s forum citing illness.