2020 city budget has biggest reserve in 11 years

2020 city budget has biggest reserve in 11 years

DOWNTOWN – A proposed new general fund budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 shows the city in better financial shape than any time since before the Great Recession started.

For the first time in 11 years, more than five percent of the budget will be in reserves. That’s the minimum the city considers necessary to deal with emergencies, city Budget Director Paul Payne said.

The proposed fiscal year 2020 general fund budget of $519.3 million calls for a $31.2 million reserve fund. It needs a $26 million reserve to go beyond five percent.

“It’s tougher to do when you’re struggling to balance the budget, but it’s also something we need to do in order to prepare for the next recession,” Payne said. The next step is to get to reserves equal to 10 percent of the budget.

The last budget with more than a five percent reserve was 2009, when the city had $24.5 million on hand. Then the recession hit, and reserves declined to $13.2 million in 2010 and $6.9 million in 2011.

Since then, reserves have increased slowly and are at $17.8 million in the current fiscal year 2019.

The city added $3.4 million to revenue by contributing an amount equal to 1-½  percent of the payroll. It also received a one-time payment of $10 million from the city treasurer’s parking meter fund.

The general fund budget provides most money for normal governmental activities like police, firefighters, parks and streets. A separate total of $507.3 million for other budgets includes a special revenue fund made up of taxes and funds for specific purposes, debt service and the St. Louis-Lambert International Airport. The total for all funds is $1.148.6 million.

Payne submitted the budget on April 16 to the city’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which consists of the mayor, the president of the Board of Aldermen and the comptroller. That body planned to act on it on at a meeting on April 30 and then send it on to the Board of Aldermen for action.

The proposed $1,148.6 billion budget for all funds is up 2.9 percent from the 2019 budget of $1,116 million.

“It’s not as tough as in years past, no major cuts,” Payne said. “We had to not grant everyone their full requests as we normally wouldn’t.”

General fund spending is up only .3 percent, from $517.5 million in 2019 to $519.3 million in 2020. By far the biggest category, public safety, is down by .7 percent, from $290.8 million to $288.6 million. Spending for judicial offices is up 1.8 percent, from $47.1 million to $47.9 million, while general government spending is going up 9.6 percent, from $26.4 million to $28.9 million.

In all categories, the city is adding 45 jobs.

The half-cent Prop P public safety sales tax brought in $22.4 million. Of that, $14.7 million is going for sales tax, $6.4 million for the fire department; and 1.3 million to the circuit attorney. The related Prop P use tax for purchases for local residents for goods shipped to Missouri, is expected to bring in $4 million for after school/jobs programs, the circuit attorney, recreation programs, building programs, and social work and mental health.