With a plethora of projects underway, St. George officials approve $352M budget

ST. GEORGE — St. George officials have approved a $352.8 million budget for the fiscal year 2020, representing a 27% increase over last year’s budget.

St. George City Hall, St. George, Utah, June 20, 2019 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

The budget was approved by the City Council during a public meeting Thursday evening. Before approval, the council held a public hearing, during which no one from the audience offered comment.

The increase from last year’s $270.8 million budget is due primarily to an increase in public works projects, such as runway repairs at St. George Regional Airport, a revamp of City Hall and a new wastewater treatment plant.

The increase, however, has not come about as a result of hefty tax rate increases. The city’s general fund, which is funded primarily by tax collection and fees, only went up about 5%, standing at $77.5 million. The rest of the budget will be funded by various revenue streams the city already has in place.

The increase is also partially the result of a raise in pay rate and benefit offerings for the city’s workforce. Personnel service is the city’s largest ongoing operating expense, costing nearly $70 million across all city funds combined. In addition to pay increases, the personnel services budget includes funding for 16 new full-time positions at the fire department, airport and various city utility departments.

Graphic shows the breakdown of St. George’s fiscal year 2020 budget. | Image courtesy of the city of St. George, St. George News | Click on image to enlarge

The general fund pays the salaries of police, firefighters, streets crews, parks and recreation personnel and other general government workers. This year’s budget includes funding for the likes of new police vehicles, playground equipment, golf course renovations and airport equipment.

The largest portion of the city budget is the enterprise fund, which includes the water, energy and wastewater departments. These departments, which operate similar to private businesses, are funded by collection of utilities fees, with this year’s operating budget amounting to $164 million.

The second largest portion of the overall budget is the capital projects fund at $91 million. This fund accounts for money used to acquire, construct and improve city-owned facilities, with funding generated primarily by impact fees, grants and bonds.

Some of the costliest public works projects in this year’s budget are as follows:

  • $17.8 million for phase 1 and 2 of a new wastewater treatment plant.
  • $15.8 million for runway repairs at St. George Regional Airport.
  • $11.3 million for City Hall and downtown police station expansion plans.
  • $8 million for the first phase of the Gunlock arsenic treatment plant.
  • $4.5 million for the 1450 South realignment project.
  • $3.1 million for a rebuild of the turbine at the Millcreek generation facility.
  • $3 million for a new Sand Hollow pipeline connection.
  • $3 million for a new fire/police station in Little Valley.
  • $1.8 million for 6 new traffic signals.

Some of the other major, albeit less-expensive projects expected to be tackled this fiscal year include constructing new trails, building a new park at SunRiver, improvements to Vernon Worthen Park, installing wayfinding stations for the downtown Arts District, implementing a 311 telephone information system, installing a new roof on the Sand Hollow Aquatic Center and golf course renovations.

Taxes and fee rate increases

While the budget increased considerably this year as a result of an array of public works projects, the majority of funding for those projects comes in the form of utility fees, impact fees, land sales, bonds and state and federal grants.

Chart shows breakdown of revenue sources for St. George’s general fund for the fiscal year 2020. | Image courtesy of the city of St. George, St. George News | Click on image to enlarge

Of the general fund’s $77 million budget, about 55% will be come from tax revenue, $23.4 million of which will come from sales tax, $9.8 million from property tax and $7.7 million from franchise tax. The year-over-year increase in tax collection is projected to come from growth in the city as new move-ins bring in more revenue in sales tax, property taxes and fees.

“We are not proposing a property tax increase, and actually, our levy went down a little bit — almost 8.7%,” St. George budget director Deanna Brklacich said. “As our citizens’ property value may go up, our levy rate will go down to make sure we get the same amount of revenue from our current citizens, and the only additional revenue that we get from property taxes is from new growth.”

There were minimal fee increases for city services in this fiscal year’s budget. Fee increases include an extra $1 per 9-hole round of golf at city-owned courses, a $1 per month increase in the base rate of residential electricity and an additional 10 cents per 100,000 gallons of water.

Several program fees for after-school programs at the Tonaquint Nature Center are also going up to account for a pay rate increase for program instructors, with the increases ranging from $3-$10.

Budget receives final approval

The budget was unanimously approved by the City Council at Thursday’s meeting. The council met previously on multiple occasions to discuss the budget in-depth at various work meetings starting last December.

L-R: City Attorney Shawn Guzman, City Manager Adam Lenhard, Councilwoman Bette Arial, Councilman Jimmie Hughes, Mayor Jon Pike, Councilwoman Michele Randall, Councilman Joe Bowcutt and Councilman Ed Baca at City Hall during a public meeting, St. George, Utah, June 20, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Community Education Channel, St. George News

“I think people need to know we go over this. … I mean, we really dig into this,” Councilwoman Michele Randall said.

Brklacich said the city’s staff also spends months putting together the budget in as balanced a fashion as possible.

“Not all projects do get approved,” she said. “We don’t have the money to do everything, but they work really hard at getting it right.”

The finalized budget report will be available for public perusal later this month at City Hall or online on the city’s website.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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