ST. GEORGE — Sales-tax revenues in St. George are flat and building permits are way down, prompting city officials to offer a trimmed down, leaner budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year.

"This year is very difficult given the state of the economy and this budget attempts to account for the uncertain conditions we are facing," said St. George City Manager Gary Esplin in a cover letter that accompanies the proposed $45 million budget. "Residential growth has slowed dramatically from the past few years and commercial projects have slowed as well."

The City Council is scheduled to approve the budget at its Thursday meeting.

Each department was asked to reduce its budget 10 percent from what it received last year, a task made easier perhaps by the city's vow to avoid layoffs, said St. George Councilman Gil Almquist. St. George employs 580 people full-time and more than 400 part-time or seasonal employees.

"Our first goal was not to fire people or let them go, but to keep as many of them as we could," Almquist said. "We may lose some to attrition and reassign some people, but no one is going to read in the newspaper that St. George balanced its budget by laying off people."

For the first time in many years, expected revenue from taxes, licenses, fines, permits and other tax-related categories are projected to fall short of what the city collected the previous year. Property-tax revenue is projected to rise a modest 3 percent because of new growth.

Sales-tax revenues, which have boasted a whopping 15.62 percent increase over the past three years, are not expected to do more than hold steady next year.

One of the biggest drops in revenue stems from a slowdown in the area's construction industry, with city officials projecting a drop of 44 percent in building permit revenues alone.

Working with a tight budget, though, isn't always a bad thing, said Almquist, a landscape contractor who is serving his first year in office.

"I like the idea of having to come to a lean year and look at each department and ask whether you need something new or not," he said. "We asked each department to cut 10 percent from their budget, which basically meant saving some jobs."

Two school resource police officers will be hired to work at a new high school and intermediate school opening in St. George in the fall. Police Chief Marlon Stratton also requested and is likely to get an additional K-9 police dog and equipment for the department.

Additional firefighter positions are built into the budget, although those positions are contingent upon receiving a federal grant, according to the fire department budget request.

A $50,000 project to remove tamarisk along the Virgin and Santa Clara River banks within the city limits should be funded, along with the addition of new splash pads at a city park.

While no tax increases are proposed, water rates will go up by 10 percent and green fees at the city's golf courses will rise by 3 to 4 percent. An increase in water rates is built into the budget because the city is paying more for its water from the Washington County Water Conservancy District, according to the budget report.

Even with the drop in revenue and budget cuts, St. George residents can expect many of the improvements to streets, parks and trails to go on as planned, Almquist said.

"There are some projects that may be pushed back a few years, but there's flexibility in things we haven't built yet," he added.

Construction of the $177 million St. George replacement airport, located about five miles southeast of the city, is also expected to begin this year. The new airport is slated to open in 2011 with regional jet air service provided by SkyWest Airlines.


E-mail: nperkins@desnews.com