WATERLOO — The Waterloo City Council reached a budget compromise just days before time ran out.
Council members voted 5-2 Tuesday to approve a spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1 that lowers property taxes, boosts utility bill fees and includes cuts to city staffing levels and services.
While public safety services were largely spared, the budget does eliminate a vacant sworn firefighter position while making deeper cuts in other departments.
The vote came during the council’s third meeting in six days to hammer out a budget and just under the Thursday deadline to file the proper documents with the state.
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“At this point in time we are at the 11th hour and we have to get a budget through for the city,” Councilman Bruce Jacobs said. “I didn’t really want a franchise fee (increase) at all … but I did offer that as a compromise.”
Jacobs was joined by Chris Shimp, Margaret Klein, Jerome Amos Jr. and Sharon Juon in supporting the final budget. Amos and Juon had initially voted in favor of a plan that offset some of the budget cuts with fee hikes, but agreed to the final budget when their plan failed.
Councilmen Pat Morrissey and Steve Schmitt voted against it.
“This is not perfect for any of us,” Klein said. “It’s not what we came in desiring or hoping for or even arguing for, but shared sacrifice is apparent in this one.”
Shimp, who had vowed during his election campaign last fall not to cut police or fire staffing, said he also wasn’t completely pleased with the outcome.
“I certainly didn’t get everything I wanted to see happen,” Shimp said. “But we do have an obligation to the citizens of Waterloo to keep the city running and do that as efficiently and effectively as we think we can.”
WATERLOO — The city still lacks a budget for the next fiscal year.
The budget cuts overall property tax collection by about $700,000 and lowers the property tax rate from $17.60 to just under $17.46 per $1,000 of value.
It adds $900,000 in new revenue by boosting the gas and electric utility franchise fee from 3 percent to 4 percent, a move that still requires a separate council vote before July 1. The plan also uses $710,000 in city reserve dollars to balance the budget.
The owner of a $100,000 home with a $100 monthly gas and electric utility bill will see their annual property tax bill drop $31 next year while their annual utility bill grows $12.
The budget maintains the sworn police force staffing, generally keeps the library whole, cuts one firefighter post and makes heavier cuts in the city’s Leisure Services, Culture and Arts, Human Rights and Central Garage departments.
Leisure Services will lay off a forestry specialist hired to deal with the emerald ash borer crisis, not hire a downtown maintenance worker during summer months, eliminate golf starters and cut golf course maintenance, reduce maintenance and part-time staff at Young Arena and make several other budget reductions.
The Center for the Arts will lose its graphic arts position as part of a 10 percent budget cut. The Central Garage will lose a mechanic position, which was included in the current budget but saw the majority of the council turn down a candidate’s appointment to the job in February.
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Morrissey said he couldn’t support the budget due to the cuts, which he’d hoped to offset with a 4 percent hike in numerous city fees.
“Austerity budgets have proven themselves to be fatal to communities,” Morrissey said. “It’s a very slipperly slope once we start buying into this concept. … It’s not a matter of compromise; it’s a matter of what is best for the city of Waterloo.”
Schmitt said he couldn’t support the “regressive” franchise fee increase when it could have been offset by not filling four vacant police and four vacant firefighter positions.
“This is not fixing anything,” Schmitt said. “This is just once again borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. Until we are willing to sit down and take a look at what’s going to change things I just really think this is being irresponsible.”
Schmitt also took aim at the city’s department heads.
“Our managers need to be brought in for a real stern conversation,” Schmitt said. “They need to be made aware of the fact they’re going to be expected to do more with less or they probably should be looking for another place of employment.”
Juon took issue with those comments, noting city staffing levels have been declining consistently over the years.
“I believe that our department heads are doing an exceptional job with basically bare bones,” Juon said. “They have been cut over the years significantly.
“I believe the city’s moving in the right direction,” she added. “I believe we are making progress.”