Ivins City Council approves ‘a more modest’ budget

IVINS CITY — The Ivins City Council unanimously approved its fiscal year budget through June 2021 during it’s regular meeting Thursday.

In a meeting conducted both in Ivins City Council Chambers and through the Zoom app, Ivins City Director of Finance Lane Mecham is seen on a computer monitor with Mayor Chris Hart and City Manager Dale Coulam in the background. June 18, 2020 in Ivins City, Utah. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

The actual passage was one of the shorter portions of the meeting, which betrayed the fact that the budget itself was months in the making. The actual process began in January with the council first being presented the budget in April

“You didn’t hear much discussion about it tonight, but there’s been hours and hours of discussion on it over the previous weeks and months,” Ivins City Mayor Chris Hart told St. George News, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic threw a “wrench” into the process. “We have a more modest budget this year than we actually started out with in January.”

The meeting was jointly held in the council chambers at Ivins City Hall and the Zoom app, though all five of the council members were patched in remotely with Mayor Chris Hart in the chambers with other city officials.

Ivins City Director of Finance Lane Meacham touted the budget as ultimately making sure the city was not spending much more than it brought in.

“It’s a balanced budget, it’s conservative,” Meacham told the council.

The budget has revenue of $20,050,183 and expenses of $23,590,038 for a deficit of $3,539,855. The budget has around $5 million more in both revenues and expenses than the 2020 budget, which also had a deficit, though at this point the city is on track for a $3 million surplus as the 2020 fiscal year closes at the end of the month. 

“We can’t spend any more than the revenue we take in and so if you were to look at the bottom line of all of the budget accounts, you would see that that those totals is zero out,” Hart said. “We would love to have, for example, a new fire engine but if that half-million dollars isn’t there than we can’t do it now.” 

A graph showing expendetures in the 2021 fiscal year budget for Ivins City. | Photo courtesy Ivins City, St. George News

The largest expenditure in the budget is reserved for law enforcement, which is allocated 36.2% ($2,468,662 of $6,817,415) of the city’s spending. Law enforcement is also one of the few budget items that will not see a cut in spending, with the largest cuts coming to the street maintenance portion of public works, which is seeing a 62.6% cut in spending (from $921,587 to $576,766). 

By percentage, the city department seeing the largest increase in spending will be animal control, going from $194,623 to $255,667 or 76.1%.

The budget makes no changes to current city staffing other than to budget for two additional police officers in the combined Ivins City and Santa Clara police department. 

While the opportunity for public comment was provided, no members of the public came forward to comment about the budget during the meeting.

The complete Ivins City budget can be found at this link.

An area that is mostly paid for outside the budget is the new City Hall, which is being paid for mostly with the recent sale of city property. As infrastructure improvements are a big part of the state’s post-outbreak economic recovery plan, Hart said city governments are going to need to do their part. 

“Government spends money. I remember the governor saying early on that city, local and county government are going to really have to be a part of the solution, but you have to be really careful,” Hart said. “If your budget doesn’t allow you to move forward with the project, you don’t but in our case we kind of our ducks lined up and some parcel that we own that we intended to sell to fund that did in fact sell and so we’re able to move forward.”

Council begrudges state ethics audit

While all the council members present unanimously approved a new code of ethics and standards of conduct for all city employees, it wasn’t with a great deal of enthusiasm because of what council members and the mayor called an overly aggressive audit by the Utah State Auditor.

The ethics audit labeled Ivins City as having a high risk of fraud, with the city losing points for not having a fraud hotline or a formal internal audit function.

Ivins City Assistant Public Works Director Thomas Jorgensen speaks before the Ivins City Council on June 18, 2020 in Ivins City, Utah. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“I think we’re doing better than what the score is suggesting,” council member Dennis Mehr said. “In the court of public opinion, here’s the headline: 130 city governments are at high risk for fraud.”

Hart, calling a code of ethics provided by the auditor with 53 items city employees were prohibited from doing as “over the top,” said the auditor is working around the state legislature. That was echoed by City Manager Dale Coulam. 

“If I was cynical, which I am as an attorney, I would say this is a way to get you to abide to an even stricter standard that the legislature has not issued. We should respect the legislative process,” Coulam said.

But after Mehr suggested not approving the code of ethics and replying with a letter to the auditor criticizing the code, Coulam said it would be better for Ivins City to work with other local cities on a joint complaint.

“I’d hate to write a letter an put a target on our city,” Coulam said. “Rather than being the lone voice, we would like to band with the League of Cities.”

“You always agree with the attorney,” Mehr said, as the council went ahead and approved the audit.

In other business, the council unanimously approved applying for funds under the federal coronavirus relief bill and tabled a new agreement with Suntran and the City of St. George on the bus route between the cities while more data on ridership is gathered.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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