Sidney City Council held a special budget and goal session on Jan. 4 to consider planned and possible changes to the budget and goals for the next one to five years.
First consideration for the council was to ask whether they were expecting any major revenue loss for the next budget year. The group discussed rumors that there could be a 40 percent loss in road use tax due to reduced travel during the pandemic, among other things. They noted that loss had not materialized yet, and decided to assume similar revenue figures as the last year, until shown otherwise.
Representatives from the library and fire department, public works and the city clerks discussed anticipated unusual costs or needs for the next year.
Craig Marshall and Derek Baier visited with the council about the fire department and ambulance budget. The two mainly wanted to clarify how the city organized their budget, and ensure they were creating an accurate budget report to share with the city. Marshall noted that most of the department’s purchases came from the money they raised through incoming revenue and grants, not the budget they received from the city. He talked about some potential grants he hoped to get to purchase new air packs, cardiac monitors and bunker gear.
The two reminded the council they would need to replace a firetruck soon, at a potential cost of at least $300,000, and asked that the city set up some kind of account to start saving money toward that purchase. They reminded the council they would also need to replace one more hanging heater at the fire department
The council discussed the current $23,000 budget the department receives from the city, and asked how much Marshall and Baier thought it needed to be raised to meet upcoming needs. They requested a few thousand more to help with upcoming expenses and start saving for a firetruck.
Deputy City Clerk Brenda Benedict asked Marshall to provide the city with a list of the department’s specific needs. Council member Anne Travis asked Marshall to provide a list of the things the department pays for from their own revenues rather than the city provided budget.
Before leaving, Marshall told the council the city could tax for fire services, and said if they didn’t know how to do that they could talk to Tabor and Hamburg, who have been doing so for years.
Sidney Public Librarian Riley Moreland provided the council with a spreadsheet of costs for salaries and upkeep, potential needs or wish list items for the near future, and some other requested changes. Moreland said she was assuming a three percent increase in salaries for the next year. She expected there would be some technology needs in the future, such as new computers and changes to the internet/network. She noted that the heating/cooling system was 15 years old and would cost about $30,000 to replace, so it was something the council should keep in mind and/or set aside for over the next few years.
B.J. Varellas gave the council a handout of future equipment purchases, and told them the majority of the purchases were already accounted for in his budget. Varellas did suggest the purchase of an E 35 mini and attachments, used to dig graves and holes for water line repairs, at a cost of about $61,875 and a trailer to haul it on at a cost of about $7,395, and said those items were not in his budget.
The cost of the 28E contract with the sheriff was discussed, and Benedict told the council it was likely the city would have to raise taxes significantly in the next year to cover this and other costs. The council debated the wisdom of decreasing hours or changing the approximately $100,000 contract cost in some other way, before deciding they would need an in-depth discussion on the matter at a later date.
City Clerk Elease Cowles told the council they should budget for a full audit for this fiscal year, due to the amount of money spent on the water project, and that it would cost about $10,000. She said new phones and possibly a new internet provider were also needed, and that she and Benedict thought it would cost about $4-5,000 for all of the new phones and connections, including the new water plant. The bathroom remodel remains an unknown cost and timeline, and the clerks planned to get more information to the council as soon as possible. The clerks also noted they needed direction from the council on how many nuisance properties to send to the city attorney each year, so they could estimate that potential cost.
They provided a list of city fees and rates to the council, noting most were far below what other cities charged, and suggesting the council consider raising some of those. It was also suggested the city attorney should be asked to look into franchise fees.
The council discussed plans to hire a company to create a website for the city, and costs quoted by the preferred two companies. The council had already narrowed possible providers down to SOCS or Town Web, with the SOCS quote being about three times the Town Web quote. Sidney Mayor Peter Johnson cautioned the council this was a very important investment for the city and they shouldn’t “cheap out” or accept the lowest bid just because it was the lowest. The website will be discussed again in future meetings.
A lengthy discussion was had on a recurring subject: comp time. Council members discussed the high number of comp time hours the city carried on employees, as well as their high maximum limit of 240 hours. Benedict had made calls and created a list of what other towns allow for maximum comp hours, and the highest other town was Atlantic, which allows a maximum of 150 hours. Most towns allowed 80 hours or less. The council noted this was a huge liability to the city, should they have to pay out all of the accrued hours at once.
Council members made suggestions to reduce comp time produced, and tighten rules, but Varellas advised comp time would always be a problem with so few employees covering all the needs. This subject will be discussed again in future.
With the meeting running long, the council’s goal discussion was kept short, with Johnson asking for quick summaries of what each member would like to see accomplished in one, three and five years. Suggestions included:
• one year-gazebo by the Post Office, possibly with all landscaping and sidewalks, playground equipment and lighting at the park, entrance signage and lighting, more holiday lighting, recognition flags for Iowa’s 175th year, and additional efforts to fight/recognize the issue of human trafficking;
• three years-sidewalks, streets and pocket parks , and