GSN NEWS STAFF

The Gilbert Town Council adopted a $966,501,770 budget for the next fiscal year, a modest increase of less than $2 million over last year’s budget.

The council approved the budget on a 5-2 vote, with Councilmen Jared Taylor and Victor Petersen voting against the measure. The vote marked the last budget vote for Petersen, who will not seek re-election.

In a bit of good-natured ribbing, Budget Director Kelly Pfost presented Petersen with a pack of graphing paper and a loaf of bread to mark the occasion – a reference to Petersen’s now-famous “bread charts,” which he unveiled during the budget process each year to warn against overspending.

The Gilbert Police Department’s received one of the most significant increases as its budget went up by over $2.3 million.

Much of that new money will cover the hiring of new officers, including the creation of a bicycle patrol unit to cover the Heritage District. It will include four patrol officers and one sergeant.

“As more people come down to the Heritage District, the town has found that units on bikes are a better way to provide the public safety services needed in the area,” Pfost said.

The increase in police funding also will cover the addition of 16 new patrol officers and three new sergeants.

The increased police staffing was met with mild opposition from Taylor.

“We have one of the safest communities and we do need more police officers, but almost $1 million more is probably more than what the safest community in America needs,” he said prior to the vote.

Pfost said that staffing increases are needed in the department to keep up with Gilbert’s population growth and to adequately service all coverage areas in the town.

“We need more officers to keep up with that growth,” Pfost said.

The town will also need to maintain and improve its utility infrastructure to keep up with growth and is currently considering raising utility rates to address water quality issues and maintain minimum utility fund balances.

The council posted its intention to raise rates on May 7 and will hold a public hearing Sept. 20.

The new budget assumes increased revenues from those rate increases and includes a water fund budget of over $33 million, with much of those monies allocated to well production and water treatment.

The Parks and Recreation budget of just over $18 million is the third largest allocation in the general fund behind the police and fire departments.

The money will primarily be used to fund the town’s community centers, recreation centers, libraries and parks and will include funds to ramp up staffing for Elliot District Park, formerly Big League Dreams, that town plans to reopen in 2019.

The council unanimously voted to lower the secondary property tax rate from $1.03 per $100 of assessed value to a rate of $0.99. That rate results in a tax levy of $22.3 million and will allow the town to make regularly debt scheduled payments.

Had the council chose to keep the rate at $1.03 it would have been able to pay off an additional $1 million in debt, which could have saved the town $150,000 in interest.

However, in a separate decision, the council had already voted to move $1 million from capital improvement funds to be used toward paying off an additional $1 million in 2008 bonds.