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Painful budget gets approved

With an unanimous vote the City Council approved the 2011 budget after shedding the final $232,000 they needed on Wednesday to close the looming budget gap they have chipped away at since October.

The council needed to cut up to 1.2 million in order to accomplish its goal of keeping $2.4 million in reserves. It was a feat that came with painful cuts, tough decisions and grueling hours of discussion, and it was all accomplished in record time – one of the first budgets in recent memory to be approved before Thanksgiving. Though the budget is approved it is not static, and includes several major assumptions and outstanding issues that could alter its form at any time.

Major cuts include the $700,000 in funding for BITV, HHHS and the Arts and Humanities Councils and the loss of 14.5 full-time employees (FTE). The city approved increases for parking violations and the business and occupation tax, and will have very few capital finance projects in 2011.

Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer reported that the ending fund balance is scheduled to be $100,000 higher than originally projected in the cash flow analysis that was used to forecast the budget, which closed the budget gap by one-third at the start of the meeting.

The council approved a motion for the police guild to accept a new health care plan starting next year to save $35,000 annually. In consideration the council agreed not to reduce any positions for the current budget.

The council unanimously voted to save $50,000 by implementing a 10-day furlough holiday in 2011 for non-represented supervisory employees.

A motion was passed to create a property transfer administration fee of $10,000 for each of the properties transferred to the parks district. The fee could be waived if the parks district agrees to return the $96,000 it received in a grant from the Williams property, which was transferred to the district.

Scales said the city has absorbed the costs associated with transferring the city-owned parks and had a previous agreement with the parks district to retain the grant money. According to Scales, parks kept 10 percent of the money they agreed to give to the city for a “grant administration fee.”

The motion states that the Parks District can either give the $96,000 back or pay $10,000 as a park transfer fee for each of the remaining 10 city-owned properties scheduled to be transferred.

The motion passed 4-2 with Debbi Lester abstaining. Councilors Bill Knobloch, Kim Brackett, Bob Scales and Kirsten Hytopoulos approved the motion.

After much discussion the council approved a motion to reduce .6 of the FTE court clerk personnel for a $30,000 reduction. The .6 reduction was in addition to a .4 reduction made in a previous meeting.

Court Clerk Telma Hauth said the .6 FTE cut would mean the court would likely cut passport services and slow the ticket administration process.

City administration found a cheaper copier lease to shed another $9,000.

Hilary Franz moved to reconsider the prior municipal court judge hour reduction from .67 FTE to .50 FTE, but the motion failed with a 3-3 vote. Brackett was absent.

The council made a resolution to have the city administration prepare a plan for parking adjustments in conjunction with the budget fines associated with the $50 tickets with the consideration of adding another hour to the time allowed for downtown parking.

Bauer and Finance Director Ellen Schroer let out a loud sigh of relief when the budget was approved just after 9 p.m., as it was a major accomplishment, but not the last hurdle for the 2011 budget crisis.

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