Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Kuna's building revenue dilemma

The flagging economy has laid bare a serious weakness in the city of Kuna’s budget, particularly when it comes to the Planning & Zoning Department.
Kuna City Council members are discussing ways to cut next year’s budget in the face of drastically reduced revenue from building permits associated with single-family residential houses and commercial buildings.
Already, the city has laid off one of two full-time building inspectors and put the other building inspector on part-time status. Earlier this year, the city put two planning department employees on half-time status.
That leaves planning director Steve Hasson (annual salary of $72,858.24) and planner II Troy Behunin (annual salary of $49,337.18) as the only two full-time employees in the Planning & Zoning Department.
The cost-cutting measures are due to plummeting revenues.
For example, in 2008-09, the Planning & Zoning Department generated about $350,000 in revenue from such items as building permits, mechanical permits, development support services and administrative services.
By 2009-10, though, the department revenue slipped to $248,000, and by the end of this fiscal year, the total is expected to drop to a meager $94,000, not even enough revenue to support the salaries of Hasson and Behunin.
Let’s be clear, though. The Planning & Zoning Department has never been a revenue maker. It’s historically been a cost center, when calculating direct revenues and expenses.
In 2009-10, when the department collected $248,000, the department spent about $421,000 on salaries, benefits, workers compensation, dues and memberships, training, office supplies, travel, etc.
So, strictly speaking, the department is subsidized by other areas of the general fund, such as property taxes, sales taxes, franchise fees, etc.
But with projected revenues of just $95,000 next year, the city can hardly expect to operate the department as is.
City treasurer John Marsh disclosed during a budget workshop last month that the city was exploring the idea of contracting out building inspection services.
City Council president Lisa Bachman, whose husband, Bob Bachman, was the laid-off building inspector, cautioned council members about going down that road of contracting inspection services, strictly from a financial perspective. She said it could cost the city even more revenue with a contractor.
The numbers seem to bear out that argument.

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