Sandpoint OKs financial policies

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SANDPOINT — Before she retires, city treasurer Shannon Syth wants to get a few things done first.

One of those is to take financial practices already used by the city and turn them into official policies. Her financial policy goals for the city, she said, include designing policies to meet the needs of the city, using sound financial management principles in development, providing financial stability, and mitigating current and future financial risk to the city.

“This really becomes phase one to our budget process this year with the presentation of these fiscal policy statements,” said City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton.

The adoption of fiscal policy is essential for the city to ensure its “financial good standing” and reserves are built in to protect the city in future years, Stapleton said.

The policies, which were officially adopted by City Council during the June 5 meeting, require the city to maintain adequate levels of fund balance to mitigate financial risk that can occur from unforeseen revenue fluctuations, unanticipated expenses from emergency situations, cash flow liquidity for general operations and to maintain a good credit rate standing.

“When I looked at what the cities needs are, there were two very specific categories,” Syth said.

The first she said, is “what do you do in case of an emergency?” One example, she said, is the big wind storm a couple years ago that, among other damage, took down trees and powerlines. An emergency reserve is needed in such cases for immediate, unexpected repairs. Through policy research, Syth found that 10 to 12 percent of the city budget is generally what is used for an emergency reserve.

The other category Syth introduced is an operating reserve, which she said is a stabilization fund that provides “bridge funding” when, for example, the economy takes a downturn, or there is an unanticipated fluctuation in revenue, litigation against the city and more.

“It provides the cash flow you need to restructure operations and either prepare for or avoid the impact that’s coming,” Syth said.

The operating reserve is set at 20 to 28 percent of the budget.

“What this policy also does is guide the replenishment and refurbishment of those, so whenever a reserve is used or a budget increases in an amount that would result in a shortfall, there needs to be a plan put together to replenish it,” Syth said.

Council also voted in approval of a “fund balance construction reserve policy.” The downtown street revitalization is a three-year, SURA-funded project, but the revenue will come in over the course of 12 years, Syth said.

In the most likely scenario, construction costs over the next few years will total $7,440,500, Syth estimated. SURA funding through 2029 is estimated at $6,923, 606, leaving an unfunded balance of $516,894. Stapleton said the city plans to pursue grants and other funding to offset that amount.

Because the funding is spread out over 12 years, there is millions of dollars in the unfunded balance column during each year of the actual construction through 2021.

“The city needs to pay and cover that upfront, and be reimbursed over a period of years, so it’s important that we set aside this reserve,” Syth said.

Syth and Stapleton will present a preliminary budget to council this Wednesday for adoption. It will then be workshopped by staff and council members before the final 2017-2018 budget is adopted in August.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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