No new taxes, that's the pledge of Grand Island City Council members after Tuesday night's meeting.
Council met until 10pm discussing the budget proposal for the fiscal year of 2013. The biggest concern heading into the meeting was making way for a $760,000 increase to the police department's budget. That increase would go to fund 10 officers and eight support members over a four year period. The next year the department would need $1.1 million, with $100,000 step-ups in the subsequent two years.
Council members were presented with two options to fund the proposal, both which included property tax increases, but rejected both.
Council member Ramsey began the discussion saying the city "needs to be all in" supporting the Police Department by taking action during the meeting. Council member Gericke seconded Ramsey's support saying Grand Island needed these extra officers five years ago. He said he has not heard from a single constituent that said ‘no' to the increased enforcement.
Gilbert was the driving force during the meeting to not choose either funding option. She said she was committed to not raising taxes. But, Dugan found the solution. By looking at obligations the city is under contract to fund, he pinpointed Wood River Flood Control Bonds that were being subsidized at $275,000 a year. The total amount of those bonds left to be paid amounted to $765,000. His suggestion was to pay off the bonds using 2012 General Funds, freeing $275,000 in next year's budget to help cover the Police Department's request.
Earlier in the meeting the council had moved to adjust the requested budget by the Fire Department from $1.1 million down to $800,000. The request budgeted specific items such as a $200,000 worth of improvement to Station 3, and $400,000 for a new Pumper Truck. The council agreed that by allocating dollars specifically to certain projects, could limit the Fire Chief that the city has yet to hire.
After discussing with the interim Fire Chief, they determined the city had only asked what needs to be purchased, allocated for, not what can you make do with a certain dollar amount. By dropping the budget from $1.1 million of specifics to $800,000 to use at your discretion, the council gained another $372,500 for the 2013 budget.
With $372,000 from the Fire Department and $275,000 from interest payments saved, the council voted unanimously to approve the Police Department's recommendation with $112,500 left to find. Written in the vote was that the extra income needed would not fall onto tax payers in the form of an additional tax.
Also discussed was an allotment of $100,000 to the Grand Generation Facility for capital improvements. Council president Peg Gilbert did voice concerns that this was not the right time to be making those gifts. She said the city cannot afford to do what's politically correct in this situation. Many council members asked for more information regarding the suggested improvements, which are still unknown at this time.
The council did not pass Gilbert's amendment to remove the allocation of funds to the senior center, but heated discussion did occur and more time was requested in the future for discussion.
The council president also weighed in on the nearly half million dollar improvements to the city owned golf course. Jackrabbit Run needs a new irrigation system. Further discussion is expected in the future before the budget is formally approved.
Grand Island residents will have until September 11th, 2012 to weigh in on the budget plans.