Council approves preliminary budget

Spending rises in Page

Page’s preliminary budget went through its final approval stage at the hands of city council last week.
City leadership is continuing its upward trend in spending, but is also saving money as well. Continued payments toward an outstanding bond debt that was used to fund infrastructure projects like the Lake Powell National Golf Course decades ago have also been fast tracked in the last several years. The payments, which primarily use a portion of sales tax revenue, are on track to be completed before a final call date of 2021.
The city is also showing an ability to keep money in the bank, as Page’s general fund account was listed at $13.4 million in the black as of June.
Nearly 60 percent of $18.6 million revenue coming into the city’s coffers last budget year was tax revenue.
City financial staff have reported they believed Page was on track to end last fiscal year with $11.3 million in tax revenue and gave a conservative estimate of earning $12.1 million next fiscal year. For comparison, the city brought in roughly $10.3 million in the 2015/16 fiscal year, and $9.1 million the year prior.
While a slight slow down in tax revenue for the city is becoming apparent, some hotels in the area have reported a greater reduction in their own profits and customer base since the end of the shoulder season. Though Page’s sales tax revenues haven’t dipped since 2009, a plateau seems inevitable in the near future.

Where is the
money going?
The highest portion of the expense budget for FY 17/18, besides the monies set aside for capital projects, will be going toward public safety. Approximately $5.5 million, or 29 percent of all planned expenses has been budgeted for public safety. A large portion of this number comes from a $1 million payment into a public safety pension fund. Cities and towns across the state are facing a similar predicament.
Funds put toward infrastructure upgrades, or “capital outlay,” have more than doubled compared to the previous fiscal year. Councilmembers have stated their desire to fast track these projects as they have been neglected in the past. Page’s tourism renaissance has given city government the opportunity to make infrastructure fixes possible, they have said. More than $6.4 million has been put aside to fund projects like the city’s road and streetscape repair plan, the John C. Memorial Park overhaul, taxiway improvements at the airport and ongoing work at Horseshoe Bend.
More than 10 new fulltime positions that include three new police officers and three EMTs account for a large portion of a roughly $1.1 million increase to personnel costs for FY 17/18. Other positions filled include an assistant at the Page Community Center and a reclassification of a maintenance position from the airport to the public works department. The city also opened up three part time seasonal worker positions for the public works department.
$180,000 has been budgeted for waste management at Horseshoe Bend and citywide parks. However, the lion’s share of that number will likely go toward Horseshoe Bend, where bathrooms under the current visitor load need constant pumping and upkeep.
While the city’s information technology department looks like it received a huge increase to its operating budget, city finance staff showed at a budget meeting that they have simplified IT budgeting for all city departments, and have moved all related budgets under the one general IT budget.
The hiring of city staff became a major talking point during recent budget meetings between city council and City Manager Crystal Dyches.
Councilman Dennis “Dugan” Warner voiced a desire to slow down hiring city staff, citing previous kerfuffles where city council was forced to terminate several high profile city positions only months after hiring for them.
The hiring of a new city human resources director and a GIS technician, which are now budgeted for the current fiscal year, became the most contentious as Warner and other councilors said they would like to know the final fate of Navajo Generating Station, as well as keep an eye on the city’s slowing of tax revenue increases.
On Saturday, the new lease for Navajo Generating Station was signed by Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, ensuring the plant will remain open through the end of 2019. That move ensures continued tax revenue and employment for many local residents for another 18 months.
Council agreed they would need to monitor the economic future of Page, but were still adamant about charging forward with all of the proposed infrastructure improvements. The elimination of the city’s aforementioned debt payment in the near future could ease the sting of a loss of NGS, some members of council said.

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