BRUNSWICK — City Council will meet today to discuss the 2013 budget, which calls for for spending $26 million — about $1 million more than last year.
Finance Director Jeff Fischer, who will present the budget to Council, said the city is in better shape than in the period from 2002 to 2009, when the city spent more than it took in and relied on reserves to make up the shortfall.
“Sooner or later, that money’s gone,” Fischer said.
In 2010, the Brunswick City Council worked with administrators to create a reserve fund that was earmarked as savings and kept segregated from the general fund annual budgets.
“Things are improving and are a lot better than they were,” said Fischer. “But we still have many challenges.”
Fischer said the $1 million increase over last year’s budget was misleading, saying it is better to look at spending over a longer period than two years.
“We’re actually spending less today then we were 10 years ago,” he said.
The overall budget, as proposed by City Manager Jim Lukas, includes capital spending on road and sewer projects.
Top projects include a storm sewer in the Lexington Ridge Gloucester neighborhood for $270,000 and a Healy Creek culvert for $410,301.
The city also set aside $510,000 for road repairs and maintenance.
Although the city recently authorized spending $1.3 million for road improvements on North Carpenter and Boston roads, Fischer said the overall cost of the project is $4.5 million, making it a top priority in the next few years.
“That project has just been a challenge, to find the money,” he said.
Capital requests from departments also will be considered by Council today:
• The Fire Department requested $40,000 to refurbish Engine No. 2 and $35,000 for a new staff car.
• The Police Department requested $45,000 for two new cruisers; $59,000 for in-cruiser computers; $18,000 for portable radios; and $12,000 to purchase and train a new drug dog.
• The Streets Department has requested $260,000 for a new dump truck with plow and spreader to replace an 11-year-old vehicle.
• The Parks and Recreation Department is requesting $35,000 for a new truck with plow to replace a vehicle from 1987.
Fischer said most departments were only requesting what they needed.
“In previous years, (the police) were able to get more than two cruisers,” he said. “People might consider $260,000 for a new plow expensive, but when you haven’t bought one for 10 years, it makes sense.”
On the topic of salaries and fringe benefits, Fischer said one of the biggest surprises was a very small increase in health care expenses. The city switched health care providers to United Healthcare and said their cost for health care only will go up by 0.3 percent in 2013.
The city usually expects at least a 7 or 8 percent increase annually, he said.
Fischer said he was especially concerned about health insurance costs next year because the major provisions of the new federal health care law — the Affordable Care Act, often called “ObamaCare” — was going into effect.
“We weren’t sure what to expect,” he said. “The switch to a new provider helped to save money.”
The entire budget and capital plan will be submitted to Brunswick Council Committee of the Whole at 6:30 p.m. today.
Fischer said he’s willing to discuss all expenses in the budget, which runs to about 500 pages, but said he hopes Council will focus discussion on major projects, capital items and future spending plans.
“I think it serves us better to focus on the big picture,” he said.
Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.