Objections, misunderstandings and old-fashioned frustration spiced up a special city council meeting to adopt the 2013-14 city budget Thursday evening. The council voted unanimously to suspend the three-reading rule and allow adoption of the budget and appropriation of city monies on one vote.
Larry Campbell moved to reduce the city's contribution to the Chamber of Commerce and Development from $100,000 a year to $50,000, and take another look at this appropriation down the road.
Campbell's motion sparked a spirited discussion (see related report on this website.) When the council finally voted, Councilman Glenn Petersen moved to amend Campbell’s motion and change the amount for the Chamber and Development office to $75,000 instead of Campell’s $50,000.
The council voted 5–3 to contribute $75,000 to the Chamber.
Tim Barrett, Brook Baker and Campbell voted no.
After the vote, Barrett again expressed frustrations with the budget for the coming fiscal year, like he has at previous meetings.
“We have had a lot of discussion about this budget,” he said. “We have to get out of this ‘spending, spending, spending’ and take care of what we have.”
“An electric rate increase, a mill levy increase – this is not doing justice to the taxpayers,” Barrett said. “We should send this budget back to the department heads to make cuts. I do not support this budget.”
Councilman Andrew Lee agreed.
“We should not put this debt burden back on the property owners,” Lee said. “Why don’t we look at other alternatives like a sales tax or other alternative revenues?”
Councilman Jim Carman also agreed that the city's need to tax stems from its debts.
“That is the primary cause,” he said, “and there’s nothing we can do about the debt now.”
“I didn’t see a lot of unnecessary expenses in most of the departments (this fiscal year) but I did see some things we could forestall,” Carman said. “Just an example of one would be maybe buying three new police cruisers now instead of five.”
Carman said he could not support the budget.
“Another place I think we could save is pay raises,” he said. “Cost of living, step raises, those are some places we can control this (increase) and we need to do it now. I don’t mean the employees do not deserve raises but when push comes to shove, the employees won’t like it, but I think they’ll realize the reasons for it and will step up.”
Councilman Glenn Petersen reminded his colleagues that they were bringing this all up at the 12th hour.
“This is not the time for all this to come up and those with objections should have spoke up before,” he said.
“We had spoken up at previous meetings about not supporting the entire budget and were told by Jim Hawks and Mayor Livingston they could not until this meeting,” Baker said. He said Campbell tried to speak Monday at the budget hearing, and was told by Hawks that was not the time and he had to wait until this meeting.
Barrett said the budget is too burdensome to taxpayers.
“We created our own mess and the taxpayers should not have to belly up to fix the problems,” Barrett said.
Councilman Martin Steinbeck, who was quiet earlier, said there should be more council involvement during the budget making process.
“I am seeing some real problems and some misunderstandings,” Steinbeck said. “We never had opportunities to discuss problems.”
Petersen said, “I think we should have meetings with no public or media to ask questions, (so there would be no) risk of misinterpretations.”
That drew a gasp from some in the gallery and members of the media.
Baker said that would be considered a closed session.
“I’m not afraid to ask the questions and I think the council should get a more updated version of the budget instead of this book we got,” Baker said. “We should not be expected to just accept this in bulk.”
Hawks said time is an issue. The budget has to set by Oct. 5.
“If this budget is not accepted, then we will have to stay in session to get what you want. It has to be sent to the state,” Hawks said. “Each month you approve the treasurers report, you approve the Municipal Light and Water report and those contain the information you are saying you should have.”
“This is a heavy hit to the taxpayers,” Barrett reiterated.
For the first time in the meeting, Mayor Dwight Livingston spoke.
“I would like to say, for the last several months we have invited all of you to come in and discuss your issues,” Livingston said. “I haven’t heard anyone come in and say anything about more cuts."
“We have had plenty of meetings and I have invited you all to come in and discuss things,” Livingston reiterated.
“We all knew we were going to take a hit with the debt this year,” he said. “I knew that when I took this office. It goes back for 5-6 years and includes bonds that were issued before any of us were here. It comes from decisions that were made in the past. I don’t even know what some of these bonds were for.”
“I think this is a good budget and we did the best we could,” he said.
“I too would like to point out that we all knew this debt was coming,” Hawks added, “Every bond was issued by prior councils and this one. That is why we are forced into the increases this year.”
“I agree, we all saw this debt coming," Hawks said, "but, we need to step back and find where we can make cuts."
Lee moved to adopt the budget and Peterson seconded. The council voted 4–4. Lee, Carman, Barrett and Baker voted no. That forced Livingston to cast a vote to break the tie. Livingston voted to approve, saying “We have worked hard to do the right thing and I vote to pass the budget.”
The council then voted on the resolution to adopt the property tax levy, which increases 14.4%. That motion passed 5–3 with Barrett, Baker and Lee voting no.
The council voted to suspend the three-reading rule to set the electrical rates, which will also increase. That passed 6-2. Barrett and Baker voted no.
By the end of the meeting, Barrett and Baker were visibly angry.
“Next year maybe we can do this so the council is not coerced into something like this,” Baker said.
Barrett declined to comment to the news media, indicating he was in no mood to talk.