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Hearings to begin today on Mitchell's $29M budget

Mayor Ken Tracy

Mayor Ken Tracy said Mitchell's finances are in "excellent shape" entering the city's annual budget hearings this week.

The budget hearings begin at 5:30 p.m. today and Tuesday at City Hall and continue Aug. 20. A proposed budget will be presented at the Sept. 3 council meeting, and will be voted on at the following meeting Sept. 17.

One of Tracy's top priorities for the hearings will be to work with the City Council to determine the city's priorities regarding several of the special projects proposed in recent months, including renovating and expanding the Corn Palace, relocating City Hall, adding a new ice sheet at the Mitchell Activities Center, renovating the public library and expanding the Mitchell Recreation Center.

"Because of some sound planning, we're in a position where we can consider some of these projects," Tracy said.

The city's total 2013 budget will be about $29 million, according to City Finance Officer Marilyn Wilson, an amount similar to budgets in the past few years. Although the city's general fund was budgeted to decline from a balance of $6.4 million on Jan. 1, 2012, to $5.8 million on Jan. 1, 2013, if the city's revenues and expenses match what is proposed in next year's budget, the fund should rebound back to more than $6.3 million.

The general fund is expected to vary from year to year, Tracy said, and the decline this year is "no cause for alarm."

Even with the $1.7 million set aside for the special projects, and the ability to borrow about another $12 million due to the city's bonding capacity, Tracy said, not all the requested projects can be funded at once.

"Prioritizing is going to be essential in determining where we're going to go," he said.

Based on prior meetings with council members, Tracy said he anticipated the ice sheet project, estimated to cost about $2 million, would likely receive immediate funding, and funding for the rest of the projects would follow based on what the council decides.

"They're all worthy of consideration," Tracy said. "We're going to have to make some decisions as to what ones we want to tackle now and which ones are going to have to wait."

As more funding from the city's bonding capacity and debt service becomes available in the future, Tracy said, each project will be considered.

"Hopefully they won't have to wait too long before we can proceed," he said.

Despite the excitement and hype surrounding these proposed projects, Tracy was wary about committing too much of the city's money at once.

"We need to be aware of keeping a reserve and not spending every dime that we have available," he said. "We don't want to run the well dry to fund all these projects at one time."

In addition to the special projects to be discussed at the hearings, the city's departments made a total of $4.6 million in capital outlay requests.

The Fire Division requested $596,000 for projects, including $400,000 that would be added to another $350,000 already in reserve to purchase a new fire engine. Another $100,000 is being set aside to be saved for future plans to construct a satellite fire station in northern Mitchell.

In plans submitted by the Police Division outlining the department's plans through 2018, exactly $375,000 is requested to extend the training room and locker room, and add onto the storage building at the Mitchell Public Safety building.

Funding requested by the Corn Palace, not taking into consideration the possible renovation and expansion, included $265,000 to upgrade the temperature control system for the building and another $92,500 to purchase new corn exhibits from the Indiana State Museum.

"There was some give and take among department heads," Tracy said. "I'm pleased with the fact that they all have come in with a reasonable request as far as ongoing expenses and projects."

After serving nine years on the council, Tracy said he feels comfortable and prepared going into this year's budget hearings.

"I'm looking forward to working with the council to move ahead with some these projects we have on our plate," he said.