City must prioritize future projects, spending

Now that Marquette has placed its most recent round of lengthy and detailed budget sessions squarely in the rearview mirror, the city commission can again look ahead.

There, the group will see an unclear fiscal future that merits significant city preparation.

We feel city staff and the commission did a fine job on the recently adopted budget, but we hope the city’s elected officers feel it necessary to begin using a portion of city revenues to draw down city debt and to fund vital projects.

The commission has agreed to annually take on only as much debt as they have paid off in the previous year. Typically, that number is about $4 million.

We would argue that if the city can tighten its belt enough to pay down more debt than it takes on each year, everyone will win in the long term.

And though the city has handled well the economic storms of recent years, commissioners have much to be concerned about moving forward.

Many of these issues are spelled out in black and white each year in the budget proposal brought to the commission by city staff. The list of long-term, potentially unfunded liabilities totals more than $38 million and includes unfunded or underfunded benefit and retirement plans, as well as necessary repairs to city hall and the municipal service center.

Additionally, local officials consistently voice worry that legislators may eliminate the state’s personal property tax without providing a suitable stream of replacement revenue. Personal property tax equates to about 3 percent of the city’s general fund.

A new city charter, approved by voters late last year, is bringing with it a new fiscal year. In order to utlimately conform with the charter’s October through September budget year, the commission approved a budget that will stretch from July of 2013 through September of 2014.

That means the city commission will have 15 months to consider how best to plan for the future of the city.

We urge commissioners to use that period of time to prioritize the city’s list of monetary obligations and to craft a detailed fiscal plan for the future.