council looks ahead to 2021

Mason City Council approved the 2021 budget at the end of 2020. The budget is a guide to spending for the year and identifies major projects and initiatives, supports ongoing operations, guides service levels, and more.

Revenue estimates, capital project lists, service levels, fuel and supply costs, benefits, and a host of other factors figure into the budget. Careful thought is put into the budget as it is created. The result is a semi-flexible plan that allows for changes to be made as needs, priorities, or revenues change. At the same time, it is firm enough to provide the city staff with a basis on which to schedule projects and services.

budget overview

Perhaps most noteworthy in the 2021 budget is a heightened emphasis on future budget stabilization through “set aside” funds for leveling out future budget cycles providing flexibility to better align purchases with the market.

The 2021 Budget includes over $34 million for capital projects and equipment; $31.7 million for capital projects; $2.9 million for vehicle replacement and $143,115 for other equipment. Compared to the 2020 Budget of $23 million for capital projects and equipment; $20.8 million for capital projects; $2.3 million for vehicle replacement; and $182,900 for other equipment.  The increase of $11 million is related to the significant improvements to State Route 741. 

Some of the City’s strategies for conservative revenues include: budgeting income tax revenues at $34 million-the 2018 actual receipts level after adjusting down for the extraordinary payments for business net profits, zero local government funds from the State and no additional revenues from local job growth despite anticipated increases.  General Fund personnel and operating expenses have increased slightly at 3%. General Fund transfers include a very conservative $3.4 million for the Safety Fund’s portion of the income tax. The Safety Fund continues to be very stable using the combination of income tax and property taxes for fire and EMS services.  The Community Center has seen the most significant impact from the COVID-19 pandemic. The focus for 2021 will be to restore membership, programs and revenues back to pre-pandemic level.  The Community Center Budget for 2021 reflects a decrease in revenue estimates of 16% and expense estimates of 14% to realign the activity to match declining participation at the Community Center as a result of COVID-19.  Staff anticipates the opening of the new Mason Aquatic Center will generate renewed interest.  The operating budgets for the eight major operating funds reflect a 2% increase over the 2020 Budget. Again, the City anticipates the issuance of additional debt of $10 million to finance the State Route 741 improvements while overall debt will decrease by almost $18.4 million including the early debt payoff of $12 million of sewer bonds.

Opening of the new Mason Municipal Aquatic Center will require adjustments and flexibility as the entire facility comes online and the impact of operations is more clearly defined. The 2021 Budget continues to fine-tune financials of the Campus Safety program and partnerships that have led to its development and success. The Fire Department’s success in reducing over-time expenses provides an opportunity to fund within current revenue estimates a limited staffing model for a third medic – reducing response times during peak activity.

Seventeen full-time positions remain vacant throughout the organization. The City’s workload demands, even throughout the pandemic have not slowed and it has become necessary to place an emphasis on filling some of those vacant positions, specifically related to front line staff, staffing for new Mason Aquatic Facility and maintenance positions.  The City will continue to strategically evaluate operations and how resources may be shared across departments which may lead to additional retitling of positions to better reflect responsibilities.

The City will continue the strategy to not schedule individual vehicles for replacement, but to rely on contingency amounts to more closely align vehicle failure with replacement. This practice of budgeting a “replacement reserve” for equipment allows greater flexibility and enhanced timing for possible equipment replacements. The City now has a reserve set aside that could accommodate outstanding “scheduled” replacement of City fleet. The 2021 Budget includes over $2 million to be set aside for vehicle and equipment needs including over $1.8 million carried over from prior years. 

With the success of this reserve strategy for vehicle replacement, the City has developed a similar practice for street resurfacing. In total the 2021 Budget has $10.5 million available for street resurfacing including $6 million carried over from prior years. The target is to gradually build a significant enough reserve to maintain the City’s 477 streets (374 lane miles) while keeping annual funding amounts level despite peaks in annual program needs especially during years when a major arterial road is in need of resurfacing.

The budget continues to be based on conservative practices, which have helped the City for long-term financial health, even when economic downtowns occur. Staff throughout the organization have been monitoring expenses closely as the impacts of COVID-19 are still not fully identified. 

“A lot of hard work by all departments and employees has gone into controlling expenses. Staff will continue to monitor and additional follow-up with Council will likely be necessary throughout 2021,” said City Manager Eric Hansen. “I am confident the 2021 Budget represents a fiscally prudent approach to municipal finances and a workforce committed to cost savings, efficiency, and sound investment in business growth.”

The 2021 budget continues to set a very aggressive work schedule and I fully expect that some projects may be slowed or delayed as staff’s attention is on the construction and opening of the new Mason Municipal Aquatic Center.  Both the operating and capital budgets are underpinned by conservative financials allowing the flexibility to adjust to meet changing priorities or unanticipated opportunities.  

SR 741 (Spyglass to Weldon Drive) $11,000,000
SR 741 (Weldon to Avalon Trail) $5,050,000
Butler-Warren/Western Row Road Roundabout $2,000,000
SR 741 (cox-Smith to Spyglass) R/W Acquisition $500,000
Indianwood Storm Sewer Improvements (Phase 2) $400,000
Pine Hill Lakes Park Play Structure Turf & Fence $315,000
SR 741/I-71 Interchange Modification Study $200,000
Senior Center Parking Lot $150,000
Willowbrook Sewer Lift Station Upgrades $120,000
I-71 Overpass Signage Improvement $75,000
Dog Park at Pine Hill Lakes $60,000
Mason-Montgomery Road Widening/Sidewalk R/W Acquisition $50,000
Golf Course Infrastructure Improvements (bunkers, irrigation, tees, etc.) $2,400,000

As a result of the pandemic, shifting workload, and City priorities, the following projects scheduled for 2021 will move forward into the 2021 budget:

Western Row Road Interchange Landscaping Enhancement $750,000
Sports Center Complex Drive Bridge Replacement $325,000
Intersections Improvement – Preliminary Engineering Analysis $300,000
Indianwood Storm Sewer Improvements (Phase 1) $300,000
U.S. 42 Roundabouts – R/W Acquisition $250,000
Annex/Training Center Improvements $220,000
SR 741/Kings Mills Streetscape Design $150,000
Replace Force Main Segment and Receiving Manhole $110,000
Lindemann Drive Flooding Improvements $100,000
Tyler Court Yard & Street Flood Study $100,000
I&I Flow & Pressure Meters (for six Lift Stations) $58,500

The 2021 Budget also includes continuation of aggressive annual repair and maintenance programs.  Highlights are outlined below.

Annual Repair & Maintenance Programs
Street Maintenance Base $1,500,000
Citywide Storm Sewer Maintenance $250,000
Street Maintenance Alternate $1,500,000
Annual Sidewalk/Curb Replacement $110,000
Street Maintenance Set-aside $1,500,000
Annual Tree Replacement $100,000
Street Maintenance Striping/Bike Paths $200,000
Tornado Siren Replacement (2) $60,000
Facilities Paving, Sealcoating $300,000
Fire Stations Replacement/Improvements $30,000
Water Reclamation Plant/Sewer $800,000