RIVERBANK — The good news for city officials crafting a budget Monday night: Property taxes will be higher than expected because of signs of recovery in the real estate market.
The bad news: This won't be nearly enough to hire new police officers or boost other services in a city that was hit hard by the downturn.
The City Council discussed a proposed general fund of about $8 million for the fiscal year that will start July 1. It could vote on the budget Wednesday.
City Manager Jill Anderson proposed keeping two positions vacant on the police force, which is operated on a contract with the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department.
That would leave the force at 17, which acting chief Erin Kiely called a "manageable and survivable" level.
"It's certainly not what I would refer to as optimal," he said.
Law enforcement is by far the largest department in the general fund, the part of the budget where the council has the most discretion. Funds for water, sewers and streets have their own income sources.
Property taxes will rise 6.2 percent based on the assessment rolls announced by the county last week. Anderson had projected a 3 percent increase in the initial budget.
Sales tax income is expected to rise 3.85 percent, helped by the opening of Beverages & More in the Crossroads shopping center.
Finance Director Marisela Hernandez said the latest numbers would leave the city with a reserve equal to 13 percent of the budget. At least 10 percent is required.
The council discussed possible savings in park maintenance through a new round of bids from private contractors. Councilwoman Dotty Nygard said the savings might go to adding a police officer.
"I will say safety is and should be always No. 1," she said.
In a memo to the council, Anderson noted rising costs for salaries, retirement, workers compensation and other items.
She said the 2012-13 budget was aided by a $185,000 payment from the settlement of a lawsuit over a Tuolumne County rock quarry that will send freight trains through Riverbank. That won't happen in 2013-14.
"The budget before you is really one of a making-it-work mentality," Anderson said.
The proposed budget includes $12,400 for roof repairs at the Riverbank Historical Museum and City Hall North.
The City Council will continue the budget discussion at 6 p.m. Wednesday at River-bank City Hall, 6707 Third St.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.