Three Marion City Council members shared ideas and opinions about what should be in the 2015 budget during a work session Thursday. This was the first step in creating next year’s budget.
City administrator Roger Holter asked council members about their feelings on raising property taxes, utility rates, and sales taxes to get revenue. He also asked which departments members think should have the biggest budget.
Present council members Chad Adkins and Jerry Dieter and Mayor Todd Heitschmidt agreed that continued street repairs, police, and economic development were top priorities. They agreed they didn’t want to raise property taxes.
“I think raising sales tax would be my first choice if I voted to raise something,” Adkins said. “I don’t want the mill levy to raise. The problem is there are a lot of people in town who want change and improvement but it’s easy to forget that’s attached to money, but we need to do the responsible thing.”
Utility rates were discussed, but council members didn’t indicate whether they wanted to raise rates.
“We need to begin setting aside some money to fix more streets without doing a big bond project,” Heitschmidt said.
Holter is instructing department heads to come up with ways to return to 2012 spending levels to avoid spending all the city’s reserves as the 2014 budget gives permission to do.
“I’m not sure why the budget is made up that way,” Holter said. “But that’s something we definitely don’t want to do.”
Holter said that now that the city has completed several infrastructure improvements, his goal is to build reserves. The city is currently spending its reserves despite cuts.
“Good governments go through cycles where they spend and grow then sit back and save,” he said. “My goal is to have $120,000 to $150,000 in reserves and $688,000 to $850,000 in utility reserves in case of disasters or to use for projects.”
Holter said the money in the reserves could be placed into short-term investment funds to help create another revenue stream.
“This way we can use that revenue to fund projects instead of taking out bonds,” Holter said.
The city currently cannot take out any more bonds.
“We need to prioritize projects and begin saving for them,” Holter said.
Holter said it is imperative to get department heads’ opinions because they know where cuts can be made in their operations. Most of the departments can and have been instructed to cut to 2012 budget levels except the police department.
“Staff and equipment costs are awfully high,” Heitschmidt said. “Let’s see where we can cut without cutting personnel.”
Police department spending is up 28 percent from the previous year, Holter said. Dieter said he didn’t see how the department could return to the previous two-officer system because of its current work load, and all agreed they liked the way the department was operating currently.
“I think they’ve recently started to clean up big issues here,” Adkins said. “I would not support cuts that would call for them to stop doing what they’re doing.”
The possibility of sharing patrol cars or cutting cars and doing more bike and foot patrol would help the budget, but only cutting personnel would return costs to 2012 levels.
Holter was advised to keep the budget for the police and economic development departments the same in 2015.