Reno general fund receives extra money, but long-term stability a concern
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On Wednesday, City Council Members began to work through Reno's proposed budget. The city has made some progress, but still faces serious challenges in the long term.
The city's biggest challenges are the more than $500 million debt and a general fund with almost no wiggle room. Recently that was made abundantly clear when Reno lost a federal grant, and with that 35 firefighter positions. It would be 50, but the city has found a way to carve out some money from the general fund to keep 15 on board.
Thin staffing is an issue for all departments. Kate Thomas, who is with the budget office says there are about 4.5 employees for every 1,000 residents, down from 7 in 2008.
"This is kind of the new norm for us. We have to figure out a way to work more efficiently with the uses of technology because we're performing very important services for our community with very few resources."
After the city's expenses and revenues, there's not much money left over in reserves, also known as the fund balance. That should be about 7 to 8% of the previous year's expenses so the city has adequate cash flow. But last year, it was closer to 4% and would have looked bad for the 2014/2015 fiscal year. Luckily, Thomas says there's some one-time money from the Regional Transportation Commission.
"But when you look at another year, which is important to do when your planning for fiscal stability, you can see that we are backed into a situation where there is a structural deficit," Thomas says. "We're facing a $2 million shortfall in fiscal '16."
On the bright side, Reno is able to pay off almost $4 million in debt for the building of city hall. The city, however, remains concerned about issues like post-employee benefits and property taxes, which have not yielded much more money, despite improvements in the local economy. The Council will adopt its final budget at the end of May.