Throughout the recent campaign I have frequently been asked about the state of the City of Crawfordsville’s finances. The question has come up so often that I felt it was best to repeat the information I provided in an earlier article.
We have accomplished much to move the community forward over the last three years and it is only natural for people to wonder if such progress has come at a cost. Unfortunately, many people draw a conclusion that progress can only come with a steep price tag and we surely must be worse off financially than we were three years ago. This is a concern worth exploring.
First of all, I am of the firm belief that we must move this community forward. We must get our house in order and create a vibrant community in which people want to live. This has always been a great community but we must work hard to make certain we don’t fall by the wayside in this ever-changing world. If we are to retain our young people and survive we must protect, and improve, our quality of life. I also believe that we can largely accomplish these goals by being much wiser in how we utilize tax dollars. We have done much to become more efficient and this has allowed us to address some of the challenges that have faced us for decades. For example, we have addressed some of our largest expenditures, such as employee health care and have taken definitive steps to control these costs. Our health care clinic cooperative has produced a 181 percent return on investment for the city over the last 12 months. These actions alone have saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars. Becoming more efficient has allowed us to address many longstanding challenges without eroding our reserves. In fact, increased efficiency has allowed us to continue strengthening our financial position.
Although there are many different revenue sources and a constant flow of funds coming and going within our different accounts, for the sake of simplification I will focus on our total cash and investments as verified by independent audits. According to audit reports from the Indiana State Board of Accounts the city’s total cash and investments at the end of 2011 were $21,452,315.01. They also report that our total cash and investments at the close of 2013 were $27,431,868.25. Although the State Board of Accounts audit for 2014 has yet to be completed the Clerk Treasurer reports a total of all cash and investments at the end of the year of $29.7 million. This includes the balances for our city owned utilities as well as general governmental activities. It is important to keep in mind that much of the increase is our attempt to prepare for coming upgrades to our utility infrastructure. For example, we will need to complete major sewer upgrades along with mandated separation of our combined storm and sanitary sewers in the coming years. Much of our infrastructure is more than a century old and must be upgraded. It is prudent to set money aside for this now rather than incurring debt when the upgrades are performed.
The State Board of Accounts reports also illustrate that we have put the brakes on budgets that exceeded revenue. State audits from prior to 2012 show budgets that exceeded income. Although, in all fairness, the full amounts of those budgets were rarely expended. However, that practice changed with the 2013 budget, which was passed in the summer of 2012, and subsequent budgets have not exceeded revenue.
In addition, we have been successful in coming in under budget each year. For example, in 2014 we came in approximately 10 percent under budget. That amount rolled back into our reserves and we transferred $100,000 of the unspent funds to our Rainy Day Fund. The Rainy Day Fund had a balance of $368,837.01 which was down $150,000 from 2011. We utilized that amount to help resolve the Accelplus situation with authorization from the city council. We all agreed, Accelplus was clearly a rainy day situation and failing to resolve it could have had disastrous consequences. However, the recent transfer of unexpended 2014 budget monies repaid 2/3 of it leaving a balance of $468,837.01 and I am confident we can finish replenishing the fund soon.
In addition, resolution of the Accelplus matter eliminated a substantial fiscal threat to the city. At the time of the sale there was nearly $20 million worth of debt involved and any court judgment against the city could have dramatically increased that figure. Fortunately, the solution that was worked out leaves the city with no Accelplus debt and we have been released of any potential liability. In short, our city could have been fiscally crippled for many years to come had this not been resolved. Further potentially costly liabilities have been eliminated with the sale of the power plant and a successful adaptive reuse of the old Culver Hospital getting underway soon.
Another significant factor in our financial stability is the high level of responsibility property owners take in paying their taxes. According to most recent reports 98.93 percent of payable property taxes (this excludes circuit breaker reductions) payable in the City of Crawfordsville were collected in 2014. This is an impressive number and speaks volumes about the commitment of our property owners.
I believe the numbers speak for themselves. Through much hard work and cooperation we can address our challenges, move the community forward by further improve our quality of life, so that future generations want to live here, while simultaneously improving our financial stability.
Todd Barton is the mayor of Crawfordsville.