Warrenton city hall sign

The city of Warrenton has approved its spending plan for the next 12 months, totaling about $19.7 million for city operations, construction and debt payments.

Warrenton’s 2019-2020 budget was approved by the city’s board of aldermen June 18 with a 5-0 vote. Ward 1 Alderman Mike Shilharvey was absent.

The budgeted spending includes $7.7 million for operating costs such as salary and benefits for employees. Another $8.5 million is for construction on roads, buildings, and utility infrastructure, as well as large vehicle and equipment purchases. And $3.5 million is set aside for debt payments related to several major projects.

The city is starting its new budget year with $14 million in funds, due in part to several major projects that were slated for the previous year but were not completed, according to a budget summary. Add to that another $11.3 million in revenue the city anticipates collecting over the next year, according to the budget document.

“Our city staff works very hard in preparing for the city’s needs, according to the income anticipated,” commented Ward 3 Alderman Gary Miller. “Our budgets are very conservative, so we don’t have any hiccups.”

About 40 percent of Warrenton’s total revenue currently comes from sales taxes, projected at $4.5 million for July 2019 through June 2020. This number is up slightly due to new retail businesses and home construction that is expected.

Operating costs

The largest annual expense for Warrenton is salary and benefits for employees. The city has $3.4 million budgeted for employee salaries alone.

The overall budget for payroll will increase 5 percent this year, including raises for employees and increased starting pay for police officers.

Health insurance premium costs are also increasing 5 percent.

They city’s daily operational costs include city administration, policing, city planning and building inspection, park and facility maintenance, street maintenance, and operating the city’s water and sewer utilities.

Major projects

Infrastructure is a major focus of the city’s budget, with more than $4 million devoted to improving and expanding the city’s sewer network, almost $1.2 million for street and sidewalk improvements, and around $860,000 directed to improving stormwater drainage around the city.

Alderman Miller said the city plans ahead for infrastructure work that will need to be done, addressing the projects that the budget allows each year. Other work is to prepare the city for future growth coming to the area.

Much of the $4 million funding for sewer infrastructure is for two main project areas: Ongoing upgrades of sewer lines that was approved by voters with a 2014 bond issue, and expansion of the sewer network to the area around the city’s new Interstate 70 interchange.

Miller said building infrastructure around the interchange will support growth that he predicts will come over the next few years.

Ward 2 Alderman Gary Auch said another large project to accommodate more people moving to Warrenton is a new well for which the city has budgeted $700,000.

Water pressure is a known issue south of town, where new housing has been developed, Auch explained. “Being able to put a well into that area is critical if we’re going to continue to see growth in that area.”

Another $859,000 is directed to stormwater drainage improvements at more than a half dozen locations around the city, some of which have been promised for several years, Auch said.

The $1.2 million budgeted for street and sidewalk improvements includes various repairs and paving. It also includes $590,000 for engineering and right of way acquisition for sidewalk construction on North Highway 47. Another $207,000 is marked for engineering and construction of sidewalk improvements on Main Street.

Sidewalk improvements were identified by downtown business owners as a priority for downtown revitalization, Auch explained. Work to improve the accessibility and layout of the sidewalks has already been approved, and likely will begin later this summer.

One of the more visually noticeable projects in the Warrenton budget this year is a plan to convert the city’s pavilion in the downtown area into a courtroom. The city has $55,000 set aside for that project.

Aldermen said organizers of the farmers market that uses the pavilion do not plan to use that location next year. The pavilion will be altered to a court to better serve the changing needs of the municipal system, and to get more use out of the property instead of just a short time in the spring and summer, aldermen explained.

Ward 1 Alderman Cheryl Dyer also highlighted a relatively inexpensive item in the budget that she believes will have a significant impact on residents and visitors to Warrenton. $5,000 is set aside for the city to replace its banners on light poles with American flags.

Debt payments

Warrenton is obligated to pay almost $2.5 million this year to pay down debt on large public projects, most of which are recent.

The city borrowed $6.4 million in 2017 to build its new aquatic center and the surrounding Warrenton Pool Park. It will pay back almost $425,000 this year on a 20-year payment plan.

About $15.4 million has been loaned to the city for water and sewer system improvements, some of which are ongoing. About $1 million total will be paid toward those debts this year.

And another $15.4 million was borrowed in 2017 to pay for construction of a second Interstate 70 interchange on the west side of the city. About $992,000 is scheduled to be paid toward that loan. City officials say they plan to pay an additional $1 million on top of that, in order to pay off the project sooner than its 20-year schedule.

Alderman Auch said the additional payment on the west interchange debt is fulfilling a commitment to taxpayers that the city would seek to pay off its debt early to save on interest.

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