At the February meeting of the Bennington City Council, we took a deep dive into the city's financial position and outlook. The full minutes will be posted here. Key take-aways:
- The city has a healthy cash reserve. At $2.2 million, it is larger in proportion to our budget than most comparable cities. (To put that in context, our city's total budget this year is $3.9 million.)
- Partially the large cash reserve is intentional. This mayor, Council, and prior council members anticipated the costly nature of 156th Street and other projects (see below).
- Partially the cash reserve is good fortune. Sales tax receipts in particular have exceeded expectations. This is likely the result of a healthy economy and online sales taxes that are remitted to cities.
- Of the total cash reserve, about half needs to be kept intact to support the city's cash flow needs and to guard against unexpected expenses or a recession. The other half, about $1.1 million, is available for upcoming projects.
- The city's share of the 156th Street project, at 20%, is currently estimated at around $1 million. This is up from previous estimates, but is still just an estimate. The project is currently out for bid, a process run by the Nebraska Department of Transportation.
- As part of the proposed Kempten Creek development, just south of Bennington Road at Johns-Bohn Park, the city has a unique opportunity to acquire between 30 and 40 acres of new parkland. This is mostly low-lying land, unsuitable for houses or businesses, but ideal for a park, soccer fields, or football fields (since they do not require fixed structures). The cost of purchasing this land, doing some very basic dirt work, and designing the new park (but not finishing it) is estimated to cost roughly $500,000.
With all this in mind, we have some decisions to make.
This month, the Council approved a contract to begin preliminary design work for the new park. Meanwhile, the mayor and the Bennington Community Foundation are organizing a steering committee to inform that design process.
In the coming weeks and months, the Council will be voting on several measures related to these projects and otherwise impacting the city's finances:
- We'll consider whether to issue special highway bonds to pay for the city's share of the 156th Street project.
- We'll consider whether to use some of the city's available cash reserve to purchase the new parkland and complete minimal dirt work.
- We'll hold a final vote on ASIP fees, charged on new homes built outside the city limits, to help pay for growing road improvement and maintenance costs. This measure earned first-round approval this month.
This is an exciting time for Bennington! It's also a time where I need your input so that we can make the best decisions for the city's future.
Please, if you have any ideas, questions, or concerns about these important issues, please let me know.
Lastly, it's an election year, and while I'm not up for re-election, it appears likely that there will be two open seats on the City Council. Would you or someone you know consider running for office? Please give it some thought. I would be happy to answer your questions about serving.
If you've read this far into this e-mail, then I think you would make a great candidate! The filing deadline is March 2.