Public safety retirement fund will pinch Surprise budget

Richard Smith
Independent Newsmedia

Additions to the public safety force were the central theme of the fiscal year 2017 Surprise city budget.

A first look at plans for the fiscal year 2018 budget during the Feb. 7 City Council Work Session did not reveal any spending priorities. But city finance staff showed why public safety will play a large role in the next budget cycle.

Finance director Lindsey Duncan said a confluence of four factors with the public safety retirement system will cause an additional cost that is the greatest pressure on the upcoming budget. She said filling these gaps will cost an additional $3 million.

“We see this year a higher contribution required for our public safety retirements than we saw in past years. The first piece of that was the proposition approved by voters last spring that changed the way the public safety retirement plan works,” Ms. Duncan said during the meeting.

“Another component is the returns we are getting from the monies that were invested in that fund. It anticipated in the plan a 7.5 percent return. In reality they’re seeing a .7 percent return. Which requires us to make greater contributions to fill that gap.”

Also, the demographics of the Surprise public safety force have changed. A number of retirements in recent years leaves the city with more to support and raised the rates.

Finally, a court ruling on prior reforms to the public safety retirement system, finding some aspects unconstitutional, will cause about $1 million of the gap.

Other, smaller hits to the budget pool are tied to public safety — though both have clear benefits.
One is the SAFER grant, which will allow Surprise Fire-Medical to add five positions and begin a peak response time unit. A COPS grant will add two community relations officers for Surprise Police.

Both grants will require the city to make one-time expenses to start the positions and Surprise will gradually pay more of the salaries for these jobs before taking them on entirely in a few years.

Surprise also enters the budget process with known cost increases — for jail services and possibly for utilities.

“You’ve been hearing about a lot of development we’ve had in the city. That creates additional work for public works and engineering as well as community development. And planning and permitting inspections,” Ms. Duncan said. “Fortunately the bright side to that is the recent action the council took in regard to worker’s compensation savings. That helps relieve some of these pressures.”

More budget planning sessions are set for the next three work sessions, leading into the unveiling of the city manager’s recommended budget April 18.

The council is expected to adopt a tentative budget May 2 and the final budget and property tax levy June 6.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Next planning session for Surprise Fiscal Year 2018 budget

WHEN: City Council Works Session beginning at 4 p.m.

WHERE: Surprise City Hall, 16000 N. Civic Center Drive

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