Archive for Thursday, July 28, 2005

City mill levy budgeted to jump

July 28, 2005

A proposed budget for Baldwin City that calls for a 4.151 mill levy increase next year was tweaked Tuesday night at a budget work session by the city council. While that jump will remain on the books, the council came to a consensus which will change the need for all those dollars.

The budget has been printed, as required, 10 days prior to the city's public hearing on it which is at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Legion Hall as part of the council's regular monthly meeting. But, the council took some of the sting out the proposed increase Tuesday.

The potential purchase of the Baldwin City Municipal Golf Course, also referred to as the Kapelle property, for $550,000 was figured into the 2006 budget with the first of five payments of $115,000. Instead, the council came to the consensus which stretches the payments to seven years, with the $55,000 down payment coming from this year's budget. The reduction is roughly $29,000.

If the land is purchased, the mill levy will go up to 33.165, a roughly 3 mill increase from a year ago instead of the 4.151 increase that was budgeted if the pay-out period is extended.

The council quickly formed its consensus for that payment, even though the actual purchase hasn't been approved.

"I'd like to spread it out," said Council member Tony Brown.

Following additional discussion, that was the final summation.

"Is this the consensus, to go with seven years? I'd be for that," said Council member Ted Brecheisen Jr.

From there, the two-hour discussion went from item to item, without much discussion, except for two recurring disagreements among some of the council -- funding the School Resource Officer (SRO) and replacement of city vehicles.

Neither of those were among items identified by City Administrator Jeff Dingman for an increase in the General Fund, which goes from $736,255 to $931,599, an increase of 27 percent. Of course, the major item was the golf course purchase. But, Dingman identified four others:

  • The addition of two full-time positions, an information technology coordinator and a maintenance technician I. Those positions have a $40,000 impact on the General Fund, which is 45 percent of their costs. The remainder comes from other funds.
  • The addition of a full-time firefighter at a cost of $9,500. A grant has been applied for that will cover additional costs for the first year. If the grant doesn't come through, the position won't be added.
  • Updating the City's Comprehensive Plan will cost $30,000 through the Planning and Zoning Department budget.
  • Salary and benefit increases for the city staff were also cited, but without specifics. Roughly speaking, a 4 percent merit increase pool was discussed as the most viable option.

As for the two new full-time positions, city staffers Bill Winegar and Peggy Nichols told the council about the need.

"Basically, we're just short handed," said Winegar, assistant utility director. "We constantly run behind. The town's not getting smaller and we've got more to do."

Dingman said the IT coordinator would relieve Nichols, city clerk, from those duties, which involve all computers and phone systems used by the city staff.

"With where we've gone with computers, we're beyond that," Nichols said of her keeping up with them in addition to her many other duties.

"I feel it's inevitable," Cleavinger said. "I feel like we're behind the curve on this."

Brecheisen suggested contracting out for those services, which the city has done on a part-time basis in the past. Nichols said besides the money it costs to do that, there are other problems associated with the practice, such as first-time IT contractors not knowing the system and causing problems with it that have to be undone.

"You're going to have to have one sooner or later," Mayor Gary Walbridge said of the IT position.

As for the continued discussion on replacing city vehicles, it was the same song, 17th verse.

"One of the complaints I hear from the public is buying new vehicles," said Brecheisen. "I get that all the time."

It was again discussed how there had been a lot of replacement vehicles purchased in the last few years because the old ones had fallen into disrepair, costing too much money to fix and then being of little value as trade-ins. For the past two years, the city has corrected that.

"We just want to be proactive and responsive in replacing them," said Council member Amy Cleavinger.

As for the SRO position, Brecheisen and Walbridge expressed concerns about the city funding a police department position where the officer spends most of his or her time at schools.

Police Chief Mike McKenna explained how one of the most important parts of an officer's job is to develop relationships with young people. He also pointed to the examples of problems involving young people this past school year, such as Internet threats regarding the Maple Leaf Festival and a shotgun incident in the parking lot at Baldwin High School, as obvious reasons for having the position.

It was also clarified for Walbridge how the position is directed as far as time spent where and that the officer always has the city as their first priority in emergency situations.

"They need to clearly understand they get what they pay for," Walbridge said of the district. "If we want to fund an SRO position, it will be on our terms. I would think that the school district would funnel funds toward this."

"I would like for Jeff to contact the school district about helping fund this," said Brecheisen.

Cleavinger, a firm supporter of the city-funded SRO position, thought the explanation of the need was once again displayed.

"It always comes down to some big power struggle," she said. "You can't be taken advantage of if you don't allow it."

When the meeting concluded, the consensus remained on how to keep the mill levy down. The 4.151 mill increase would have cost a home owner with a $150,000 home about $70 in additional taxes. After the tweak, the actual mills levied will probably remain in the 30 range.

"I think we were artificially low last year, but we cannot let this creep back up," Council member Tony Brown said of the levy.

The city's valuation, also used to compute taxes, increased 11.12 percent this year, from $24,464,954 to $27, 185,512.

Residents with opinions on the city's budget can express those at Monday's public hearing scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Legion Hall.

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