Lock Haven looks over tight budget

LOCK HAVEN —  Lock Haven’s $11.15 million budget for next year is not expected to include any tax increase or any increases in water and sewer fees, and it could end 2017 with a fund balance of only $82,035.

“It’s abnormally low,” City Council Vice President Stephen L. Stevenson said at Monday’s budget work session of the expected fund carry-over.

The balance should amount to two to three months worth of expenses, he said, and $82,000 is not nearly enough to do that. With so little wiggle room, one big expense could derail the whole 2017 spending plan, he said.

He recommended the balance be increased a little each year.

Mayor William E. Baney III pointed out that the city expects to conclude this year with a much higher fund balance —   $293,541.

It also is possible that the balance at the end of 2017 will be higher than expected, City Manager Richard W. Marcinkevage said, because the budget figures always are very conservative.

At the end of 2014, council raised real estate taxes about 16 percent for 2015. At the time, council expected to keep the tax rates the same for the following three years, and 2017 will be the third year since that increase.

The budget does not yet include any big capital expenses, although there is a wish list from city staff that totals $1 million, Marcinkevage said. Council usually looks at the wish list after it reviews the basic budget and prioritizes any capital spending.

Stevenson added a capital request, saying once again that one or two lights should be installed at the Memorial Park end of the levee River Walk, to illuminate the parking lot there.

He also said the budget does not include any money for the city’s share of a potential bus system connecting Lock Haven to Jersey Shore and Williamsport. Just how much that share would be is not yet known.

Insurance premiums are one of the driving forces behind any municipal budget.

Exactly how much the city will have to pay for liability insurance next year is not yet known, Marcinkevage said.

Council usually does not see insurance figures until later in the budget process.

Marcinkevage also noted that traffic accidents in 2016 caused $80,000 damage to traffic signals and $11,000 damage to street lights. Most of the repairs were paid for by insurance, he said, but some of the payments came from the city’s own insurance carrier and probably will cause the city’s rates to rise.