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Council reviews budget ahead of public hearing

by Tim Tedeschi - ttedeschi@chronicle-tribune.com

Marion Common Council reviewed the proposed 2020 budget and suggested reductions to various areas during a special meeting Tuesday.

The budget was passed on first reading Oct. 1, with a public hearing and second reading vote scheduled for Oct. 15.

Council went through the budget by each department, highlighting areas of concern or questions they had about specific line items.

Councilman Brad Luzadder reminded his colleagues that council cannot increase funding to anything proposed in the budget prepared by Mayor Jess Alumbaugh’s administration.

“Remember, you cannot raise anything,” he said. “You can take it down, but you can’t raise it.”

Any proposed amendments to the budget will be voted on individually at the Oct. 15 meeting.

When reviewing council’s budget, several council members expressed a desire to amend salaries for council members back to 2019 levels instead of being included in the across-the-board 3 percent raises.

A similar amendment failed by a 3-3 tie at last week’s council meeting.

The proposed wage increase for council would increase members’ biweekly pay from approximately $298 to $307.35, according to Controller Julie Flores.

Council Vice President Deborah Cain proposed a reduction in council’s $1,000 travel fund. President Alan Miller and Councilman Don Batchelor noted they had used the travel funds to attend a conference when they were first elected to council, while Luzadder noted he attended a conference on his own dime.

Still other members including Cain and Councilwoman Lynn Johnson noted they never went to conferences when they began on council.

Batchelor said regardless of what current members had done, he believed it would be best to keep the money in tact for newly-elected council members next year, and no change was proposed to the travel fund.

While reviewing the Board of Public Works and Safety, Cain proposed cutting the line item for natural gas from $80,000 to $40,000, noting $37,000 was the most spent over the last few years.

Cain also asked if it would be possible to reduce the $2,000 line item for drainage assessment, which hasn’t seen spending for the past few years.

“I looked back in last year’s budget and it was still a zero, so for the last four years they’ve spent nothing,” she said. “It’s been zero in the actual, so I was wondering if that assessment comes up every so many years.”

Councilman David Homer also noted within the board of works budget that the city could see higher costs than the proposed $147,222 for the inmate work crews provided by the Grant County Sheriff’s Department due to the ongoing contract negotiations between the county and sheriff’s office employees.

For the community development department, Cain proposed cutting the $800 office supplies line item and the $10,000 contractual services line items in half since spending over the last few years has been less than half of what is appropriated.

Council was in agreement to reduce three city court budget line items as requested by Judge Jason McVicker for a total decrease of $356 total.

While discussing the mayor’s budget, Homer proposed reducing the mayor’s travel line item from $12,000 back down to $9,000 as it was in 2019.

Homer is Alumbaugh’s Republican challenger in the upcoming mayoral election.

Alumbaugh had told council during budget hearings that he reduced his education/instructions and promotional line items by $1,500 each to increase the travel budget in hopes to travel more to learn from other mayors and communities and to meet with potential businesses.

Councilman Jim Brunner said while reviewing the engineering department’s budget that he wished the mayor would’ve made improving streets and sidewalks more of a priority in his proposed budget, as a majority of council candidates have found they are the No. 1 issue residents talk to them about.

“I’m just going to be honest, I think there’s some people on this council that feel a little differently than the administration does about what our budget should be like,” Brunner said. “We’re spending a lot of money right now on a court case where a lot of that money right now can go to fix a lot of streets and a lot of sidewalks.”

Cain said since council’s hands are tied and they cannot approve increases themselves, it is crucial for members to continually talk to the mayor and engineering department about how streets and sidewalks need to be a priority.

“That’s just something we need to keep talking to the mayor...so that hopefully next year the budget will indicate and we can have the money to put in the budget,” she said. “We’ve just got to keep talking about that directly to the mayor so that when they get ready to do the budget they’ve heard us over and over and over plead for that.”

Cain proposed a reduction from $1,350 to $500 for the advisory plan department’s materials line item and a reduction from $1,250 to $500 for the department’s membership dues line item. Both of the reductions were based on past spending not coming close to the budgeted amount, she said.

She also told council she believed the city’s budget for the aviation board could be reduced by $4,000 if a grant the airport usually receives comes through.

Miller said he would check with the respective city departments with the various questions brought up at the meeting and get back to his colleagues with answers as soon as possible.