Saratoga Springs ended 2013 a little too far in the black.
Revenues came in higher than expected and expenses came in lower than expected. The city dumped as much as it could into its fund balance — the rainy-day reserve — without exceeding the state-recommended $6.06 million limit. It still had $1.7 million left over, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan said Monday.
“These funds should be returned to the taxpayers, possibly through reduced property tax rates if closer scrutiny of departmental budgets and expected revenues reveal that this would be sustainable,” she said in a statement Monday.
Actual revenue collected totaled $41.58 million, while expenditures amounted to $38.84 million. Madigan said the city picked up $848,872 in added revenue, which was bolstered by mortgage tax collections, an unexpected surge in building permits and record-high sales tax receipts.
The city also received more impact aid from the state for hosting video lottery terminals at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway. The state budget boosted VLT host aid for the city to $2.3 million — 27 percent, or $331,251, more than the previous year’s aid.
In addition, Madigan said, the city-operated ambulance program collected more revenue than expected.
Sales tax revenue in 2013 topped out at $10.65 million, which was above budgeted expectations. City officials are anticipating $10.5 million in receipts under the 2014 budget.
The city also benefited from revenue generated by operating its own ambulance service through the Fire Department. An 18-month report on the service released in September found the ambulance service cost the city about $338,000 in expenses but generated about $1.1 million in revenue.
The city was able to reduce expenses through adjustments to new health insurance programs and slower than anticipated hiring for new positions. Expenditures for employee benefits and personnel service funds were lower than budgeted, Madigan said.
“We must strive to establish a balanced budget that adequately funds the delivery of solid essential services in a safe community,” she said.
Madigan suggested some of the surplus be dedicated to improving the city’s website. She said limited resources have made difficult to upgrade the online portal to city government.
“This is an opportunity to use one-time funding for a one-time project that is universally beneficial,” she said.
Mayor Joanne Yepsen agreed the city’s website could use some work — an opinion also shared by her recently appointed Business Advisory Council. She suggested some of the surplus could be used toward the city’s complete streets initiative or improving connectivity among the city’s recreation trails.
Yepsen also lauded Madigan’s work with the budget to produce the surplus. She stressed the city should continue to seek out additional revenue streams and do whatever possible to reduce the tax burden on residents.
“I feel very strongly about keeping the taxes flat or lower,” she said.