The city of Coeur d’Alene added more than $1 million to its coffers last year by bringing in more revenue than it spent.
According to an audit that will be reviewed next week at the City Council meeting, the city in 2018 took in $1.4 million more than it costs to run the city. The excess money is returned to the general fund.
“That is called a clean audit,” city administrator Troy Tymesen said.
Having a flush general fund is in many ways a boon, because the fund can be used to make up unforeseen costs in emergencies, it can be used to replace equipment, to purchase land or for capital improvements.
“The council can use the funds at its discretion,” Tymesen said.
A city usually keeps between 5 and 15 percent of its budget in the fund — enough to pay operating costs for up to two months — to cover unforeseen expenditures. Coeur d’Alene, with its $90 million budget, has over the past five years kept its year-end fund flush with between 20 and 26 percent saved for a rainy day, said Vonnie Jensen, the city’s comptroller.
That helps when the city is blasted with a late season winter storm that dumps snow for days or weeks at a time. Take February — when North Idaho received record snow in a month that usually sees scant snow removal costs. Tymesen said Coeur d’Alene spent $22,000 on fuel alone.
“And that was a short month,” he said.
Much of the savings, according to the latest audit, came from liquor, highway and sales taxes, and because the city was not fully staffed. The police department alone was seven positions down.
“Around 85 percent of our budget is people,” Tymesen said.
A recent construction boom also added more money than expected to city coffers.
Councilman Dan Gookin said having a repeatedly robust general fund is a concern if it doesn’t result in some cost cutting.
“The increasing fund balance represents excess revenue,” Gookin said. “This implies good fortune, but my observation is that our budget consistently low-balls revenue.”
Over the past year, Gookin said he asked to cut $500,000 from the budget.
“The fund balance is ever increasing and we can afford it,” Gookin said. “I believe the city can stay well within budget without constantly raising property taxes.”
Keeping a tighter budget can serve to stymie tax-increase grumbles, he said.
“It would reduce the argument that we unnecessarily raised property taxes,” Gookin said.
Tymesen said the savings reflect good stewardship.
“We watch services and supply very closely,” he said.