Growth in Hopewell may be stagnating
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Feb 6, 2013, 15:10
photo by Caitlin Davis Jerry Whitaker, Hopewell’s new finance director, share his budget projections with the city council.
Hopewell City Council looked at Finance Director Jerry Whitaker’s financial projections for the city for the next five years during a Tuesday night meeting.
At the Dec. 11 council meeting, former finance director Elesteen Hager presented a grim outlook for the city prior to his departure.
Based on current trends, Hager projected that the general fund balance will go into the negatives by the year 2015. Currently the balance is almost $4 million. By fiscal year 2015, he projected a balance of -$189,688.
“What that’s telling us is it’s a combination of things,” Hager said at the Dec. meeting. “Real estate values are declining, it’s the state cuts, it’s the federal cuts we’re experiencing.”
This week, Whitaker agreed with Hager that there will be a decline in the general fund balance.
“What this shows is a downward trend in the general fund balance,” Whitaker said, referring to his presentation on Tuesday.
While both Hager and Whitaker projected a downward trend, Whitaker’s projections were more optimistic than Hager’s.
Whitaker noted the fund balance will drop below $3 million in FY 2014-2015 and will not increase again until FY 2017-2018, when it will be just over $3.1 million.
Whitakers took a different approach to developing his projections.
“Each person has their own viewpoint on how to do projections, and again, some people look at trends and they span numerous years and some may actually look at spans that are much shorter in nature,” Whitaker said.
Hager went back 10 years to build his projections, while Whitaker used the last two years.
“Two years is the most reflective of the economy,” Whitaker explained to council. “Anything past 2011, and you start skewing numbers.”
Whitaker has projected that the revenues for the city are projected to remain stable, with very little growth. He also projected similar expenditures for the city.
“I just didn’t look at 2000, because the budget for the city was $31 million compared to the past two years of 2011, 2012 when it was average,” Whitaker said, noting the current budget for the city sits at a little over $44 million.
In Dec., Hager said a gap exists between spending and revenue in the city. He said the gap has been there for quite some time.
“You’re going to have to tweak it, not do this program or increase this tax base,” Hager said. “And nobody likes to do that, but it’s going to be the facts of life for you. You’re going to have to make some really hard decisions. There’s going to have to be some activities or some programs you’ll have to do away with.”
While Whitaker delivered a similar message to council on Tuesday, he said there has been growth in the budget in the last 13 years, as compared to years prior.
“There’s been a tremendous growth in the city’s budget from 2000 to 2013, but if you look at 2011 and you look at 2012 there’s not a lot of growth in the budget,” Whitaker said. “The budget has pretty much flattened out for those two years.”
Mayor Mike Bujakowski, who heard both presentations, said after the meeting on Tuesday that both sets of numbers were similar in nature and led him to the same conclusions.
“But the message is the same,” Bujakowski said. “You’ve got to either cut your expenses or increase your revenue, and if we can deal with the budget and the economy for the next couple of years, it will get better. We see a light at the end of the tunnel financially, but it is going to be a situation where we’re going to have to do some things internally as a city, not lay offs or anything like that, but we’re going to have to watch our money...”
Bujakowski said Whitaker’s presentation was not one of “gloom and doom” but a call to council to begin making changes.
“Basically, what Elesteen said very clearly, and what Mr. Whitaker said, is before you increase your expenditures, you have got to make sure you’ve got a revenue source to cover it, because right now, the revenues that are coming in are covering the expenses going out and any changes in expenses have got to be off set with an increase in revenue or you reach into your savings account.”