Jefferson City’s budgeting plan helps disaster recovery efforts.
The natural disasters that hit a year ago were equal parts destructive and unstoppable, and neither came with a great deal of warning. But thanks to smart and flexible budgeting, backed up by a responsibly managed rainy day fund and the potential for federal reimbursement, the city’s budget took it all in stride. As with every other aspect of city staff’s involvement in these tandem recoveries, the day-to-day leaders of our fiscal, administrative, emergency, and disaster response operations deserve serious recognition for positioning us to act effectively on day one and beyond.
General Fund Budget
Good budgeting — whether at home, work, or City Hall — is not simply deciding how to spend every dollar you expect to have. It also involves building in some allowance for regular expenses that may exceed your estimates and putting other funds aside in case you’re faced with an expensive emergency, whether that’s natural disaster, software or vehicle failures, or any other important and urgent condition that may suddenly arise. The art of budgeting lies in building in a suitable cushion for the imaginable unknown that does not unnecessarily impair normal operations while leaving savings untouched unless absolutely necessary.
Since May 2019, the City of Jefferson has spent more than $2 million on tornado and flood recovery efforts across all of the funds it maintains, each of which had tornado and flood accounts added to manage and track related spending. Of this total, roughly $525,000 came from the general fund, including more than $237,000 spent on vegetative debris disposal in addition to the clearing and hauling expenses we incurred. All related overtime for city employees across all departments was absorbed by each department’s regular salary budget. Ultimately, thanks to sound fiscal management, enough of the budgeted dollars remained unspent throughout the rest of the 2019 general fund budget to cover these extraordinary expenses without the need for some supplemental spending authority.
In the event that unexpected expenditures exceed our budgeted cushion, we maintain an unbudgeted fund balance reserve equal to 17% of the general fund budget. Any expenditure from the fund balance will require the approval of City Council. If we fall too far below 17%, city staff establishes a replenishment plan. The fund balance currently sits around $5.6 million for our almost $33 million general fund budget.
The city staff has also been hard at work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, identifying expenditures that are eligible for federal reimbursements like staff overtime, debris removal, and equipment fees. This review happens expenditure by expenditure and could result in the city’s recovery of up to 75% of amounts spent. Progress has been encouraging, although as of this writing, the review goes on.
While city staff has done an excellent job (not to say that it was always — or ever was — easy) this experience highlights the great importance of applying caution and forethought when preparing our budgets and maintaining more in reserve to help the Jefferson City community weather these particularly rainy days.