Uncertainty

Overgrown and more than a year removed from the flooding that destroyed portions of the Auld-Brokaw Trail, the proposed 2021 municipal budget may offer opportunities to get the ball rolling on reconstruction of the trail.

Uncertainty reigned supreme among Yankton city officials as the 2021 municipal budget was released.

The City of Yankton released its proposed $59,570,918 budget Thursday afternoon.

The municipal budget in 2020 was $71,510,684, roughly 16.7% higher than what’s proposed for 2021.

According to City Manager Amy Leon, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic looms large over the proposal.

“We really had no idea how a microscopic virus could dramatically alter our lives,” Leon said. “It’s certainly altered things here at the City of Yankton and forever changed how we’ll be able to deliver public services and run our facilities and even plan our budget.”

With the budget having to be submitted by Aug. 1, she added that much is still up in the air.

“As folks look at this, I ask them to know that the only real certainty I have right now is uncertainty,” she said. “I have to present the budget now, legally, according to state statute, but I just don’t know what the future will hold. … It’s not carved in stone.”

Leon said that everything from aid for dual disasters to city revenues has yet to come into any substantial focus.

“This year’s budget, 2021, will change more than any has because we don’t have some of the things included that we don’t know yet — our CARES act and what we’re able to get there,” she said. “We’re still working with FEMA and we don’t fully know what we’ll fully receive for FEMA funds. There will be a supplement in the fall and we’ll certainly have to continue to work through things.”

This fogginess about the future also extends to the city’s sales tax revenues, which had originally been projected as flat for the city in 2020.

“We have no surety about revenue,” she said. “I don’t know what impact not having some of our summer events will have on our third-penny. I don’t know the impact on sales tax in general. …We’re going to maintain flexibility.”

Though the latest sales tax numbers had the city in the black —up 2.91% on the year when June’s numbers were released — the city has adjusted for an anticipated 1.3% decline in revenues at the end of the year while projecting for flat growth next year.

While uncertainty may be a theme for the budgetary process moving forward, some things are still nearly certain for the coming year:

• Utility rates will be rising. Leon said rates will climb 3% for water, 5% for wastewater and 3% for solid waste.

• The ball will start rolling on repairs to the Auld-Brokaw Trail along Marne Creek. More than a year removed from the bomb cyclone that destroyed large swathes of the trail system, Leon said that incoming FEMA money will allow the engineering process to start in 2021.

• Street projects will still happen, including projects on 23rd St., Spruce St., 30th St. and Whiting Dr.

Though fewer capital projects like those seen in the past few budgets are planned, less money in the proposal didn’t mean an easier workload for city staff in putting the proposal together.

“It was a lot more uncertain and, at times, a lot more frustrating and overwhelming,” Leon said. “We can’t know what we can’t know. It’s hard to predict in July what we think is going to happen as a result of things that occur in the fall. It’s hard for me to say where we’ll stand in January.”

She added that a lot of entities have shown patience throughout the budgeting process.

“We have a very understanding public, back knowledge in City Hall, a lot of experience in City Hall and on the commission and a lot of good input from citizens as well that we’ve used to put the budget together,” she said. “We value the flexibility and understanding the commission has had and the public has had with COVID-19.”

Yankton mayor Nathan Johnson said that communication will be important going forward to bring further clarity to the 2021 budget situation.

“There is no question that this will be a year unlike any other that any of us on the commission has ever experienced,” Johnson said. “That will also be true for all Yankton citizens. In times like these, it’s important that we communicate and maintain trust so that we can get through the struggles that lie ahead. I know that the commission and city staff are committed to being transparent and being good listeners so the citizens of Yankton have confidence that we are making the best decisions we can based on the information we have in front of us.”

The City Commission will meet following the regular meeting of Monday, Aug. 10 to discuss the proposed budget and will continue the meeting to Tuesday, Aug. 11 if needed.

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