“We need to take care of the people that are running the community or the community may not be as good as it could be,” said Cheryl Flint.
“Our youngest employees could go to other cities and make more money and that’s difficult to pass up at the entry level,” said Tim Barlow, a corporal in the police department. Further, he added, “Do you always want employees that are entry level? Or do you want experienced employees that have expertise? That’s what you have, but we can’t keep going on forever in the status quo.”
Employees were expressing their concerns over the budget proposed for 2011, which is $300,000 lower than this year’s budget.
“It’s a mean, lean budget,” said Dean Storey, city finance director, of the $9,075,000 the city has to work with this year. “We have scaled back capital projects, placed a freeze on employee wages and asked departments to cut back operations by 5 percent.”
Jay Jones, a mechanic for the city, spoke of the aging vehicles and pointed out that newer vehicles with better gas mileage would “pay for themselves in a very short time.”
Ryan Wilco, also a corporal in the police department, said city services are drastically behind those services of other cities. “We don’t have the resources, we don’t have the manpower,” he said. “You can’t expect employees to stick around under these conditions. Things need to improve to make us competitive and comparable with other cities.”
Mike Eggleston, assistant fire marshal, spoke of the largely volunteer fire department and how many are getting older. He said those who serve on a per hour or per call basis must receive improved compensation, which is only appropriate “for a person to put their life on the line.”
While many expressed concerns and made requests, the only sparks came from the city council itself. Council member Gil Miller expressed repeated frustration.
“There’s never been an audience like this at a public hearing,” he said. “I for one have had it and am just not going to deal with this idea we can scrub just a little bit more.
“I can assure you,” he told the audience earlier, “that there has never been a harder year and I’ll tell you we have looked at everything. It’s not something we’re taking lightly – when 60 or 70 employees have no raises for two years.”
Several audience members came forward with ideas to improve the city’s bottom line. Marcia Cook said more commercial ventures would bring more revenue. Cliff Briggs said more or larger fines would help. Several suggested that a 10 percent tax increase wouldn’t hurt, including Russ Rodgers, a teacher, who said he depends on the city’s services since he has a special needs child. “We need to take care of our own so they’ll stay – even if we need a tax increase,” he said.
Another resident said he was surprised to see that the city’s cut of his property taxes was only $80 and with “most of our services coming from the city, $80 a year seems really small.”
“This is an awfully tough situation to be in,” said Mayor Steve Hiatt. “We’ve been presented with a balanced budget and for that I commend the city staff.” But, he pointed out in response to suggestions, a property tax increase of 10 percent would only mean an additional $100,000 per year, and health insurance costs for employees have risen more than that. “We would have had to raise taxes 10 percent every year for seven years just to keep up with our health insurance,” he said.
Comments regarding the proposed increase in power rates were few and far between. Former council member John McCleary asked the council if the proposed 8 percent increase had any “fluff” built in, or if that’s the bottom line.
Storey answered that the city’s power resource costs, which make up 75 to 80 percent of the power budget, have gone up from $6.4 million in 2005 to $9.35 million in 2011 – a $3 million swing in six years. At the same time, there has been only one rate increase in that time of 7.5 percent in 2007.
Miller said the city should make those adjustments more frequently and make bite-sized increases rather than a big jump. “I have no problem explaining to people that the costs have gone up. I think they understand that. We should not be going in the hole and then having to pick up,” he said, a concern repeated in regards to the budget as well. “I don’t agree with that philosophy – we should look at it every year.”