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The Waterloo City Council is seen March 8 during its budget special session.

WATERLOO — The city still lacks a budget for the next fiscal year.

Waterloo City Council members met for nearly three hours Monday before adjourning without reaching a budget compromise for the second straight meeting.

They expect to return to session at noon Tuesday in hopes of breaking the deadlock and avoid having the city miss the state’s March 15 budget deadline for the first time in at least three decades.

“We’re in uncharted territory in my tenure with the city of Waterloo, with the potential of possibly not passing a budget at the deadline,” said Chief Financial Officer Michelle Weidner. “We’ve never been in this position before.”

Mayor Quentin Hart said there’s been discussion between policy makers since Thursday, when he vetoed a budget adopted by four council members that would have led to significant layoffs across the city.

“I will say we’ve had some lively conversation among council members,” Hart said. “Folks have been talking, trying to come up with different options with what they believe is important for the city of Waterloo.

“Some want to tighten up the belt straps a little bit and some are trying to find new sources of revenue,” he said.

Councilman Steve Schmitt was absent Monday to deal with what was described as a personal family issue, which left the remaining council members basically split 3-3 between those calling for spending and staff cuts and those looking at fee increases to maintain existing services.

Almost every budget proposed during Monday’s meeting would have lowered the city’s current $17.60 property tax rate next year.

Councilman Bruce Jacobs said he was willing to accept Hart’s proposal to increase the gas and electric franchise fee from 3 to 3.5 percent, boost the use of city reserve funds from $500,000 to $710,000 and leave a few currently vacant positions — including two firefighters — unfilled to lower the tax rate to $17.59.

“We actually lower our levy rate one penny,” he said. “No one gets laid off with this budget.”

Councilman Chris Shimp was still opposed to the franchise fee hike, but proposed cutting the tax rate to $17.38 by using $1.5 million in reserve funds and eliminating two vacant firefighter posts, a vacant police position and delaying the hire of two more cops until January 2019.

Weidner suggested such a large use of city reserves would damage the city’s bond rating.

Council members Pat Morrissey, Sharon Juon and Jerome Amos Jr. all proposed keeping the current public safety staffing levels by boosting all general fund fees by 7 to 8 percent along with the franchise fee increase.

Juon said the projected tax cut would more than offset the franchise fee increase for a normal homeowner, while the user fee increases would not affect everyone.

“If you don’t have a need for it — you don’t have a pet, you’re not going to build a house — this won’t affect you,” Juon said. “It is indeed a fee just placed on the people who would use certain services.”

Jacobs countered that fee hikes could hamper economic development.

“They are user fees,” he said. “But what could happen is businesses could decide not to use.”

Councilwoman Margaret Klein did not offer a specific budget proposal but said she was against raising the franchise fee or counting on the state providing revenue promised under a 2012 property tax reform bill.

Council members received nearly an hour of public comments from residents at the meeting, with a majority saying they were opposed to service cuts, especially in public safety.

“I plead with you to please keep your EMTs, your firemen and your police officers,” said Bette Wubbena, who suffered a heart attack 17 years ago but had her life saved by two police officers and Waterloo Fire Rescue.

Police officer Jordan Ehlers noted the city saw an increase in murders in 2014 after it cut three police positions.

“Waterloo is the only city of its comparable size and tax base that is considering to cut police this fiscal year,” he said.

Resident Forest Dillavou was one of several residents speaking against fee increases.

“We need to economize,” he said. “We need to get somebody in here to tell us how we can run this city cheaper.”

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Waterloo City Reporter

Waterloo city reporter for the Courier

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