Only one resident spoke out at the city council’s April 25 budget public hearing. That one resident made a passionate appeal to reduce the tax burden on the city’s poor people. He asked them to consider “whether we need it or whether we want it!,” urging them to keep only the necessaries in the budget.
But, this lone voice didn’t have as much effect as the dozen or so voices raised at the previous hearing. When later in the evening the council worked on “reconciling” the latest revised budget (“reconciling” means throwing stuff out so you can afford the rest) councilmember Fred Schultz noted that, judging on the turnout at public hearings the issue on residents minds is the environment. They want the city to hire a sustainability coordinator. “We need to focus on that area” he said.
So, they did!
Several councilmembers had proposals of their own, ranging in cost from $150,000, to $185,000 for a sustainability coordinator and his/her project budget. Setting that figure, however, was as the mayor said, a bit like shooting a cannon before aiming it.
The idea of using a contractor first gained consensus as the council discussed it. That way, it was reasoned, they can get a feel for what his/her role and capabilities are before creating the city staff position.
The city manager discouraged the council from discussing where the money would come from, that would be her job, she said. She just needed to hear what they wanted to do. Councilmember Dan Robinson, however, couldn’t resist suggesting that $100,000 could be shifted from the new-sidewalk budget.
The council also discussed the need to get streets in better repair. They also talked about the city manager’s proposed “facility maintenance reserve.” This would be one of the piggy-bank funds- such as the equipment maintenance reserve – the city keeps for future expenses. A bit of money is set aside each year, and when a new car or carpet is needed, the money doesn’t have to be raised in that year’s budget.
As the council finished the “reconciliation” councilmember Terry Seamens quipped “Mr. Mayor, which items have we removed from the budget?” The council chuckled – but with some chagrin.
For those of you watching the numbers – the city manager’s revised budget (subject to change, especially since this latest discussion) shows revenue coming in to the city next year as, $23,019,027, and expenditures going out as $24,607,487. The difference, $1,588,460 will presumably be made up from the city’s piggy-bank funds.
A new ordinance to ban panhandling was tabled for a few weeks. There was too much confusion over begging on median strips. Despite at least one councilmember’s impression that it was supposed to ban panhandling from median-strips, the new ordinance as written by the city attorney says it is ok. County law forbids it, yet the new ordinance is supposed to dovetail with county law.
Somehow the concern over how the current ordinance violates the constitutional right to free speech, the new ordinance does not allow speech at all. Verbal requests for money would be illegal. So are any “aggressive” requests. “Passive” panhandling with a sign, or playing music with a donation-welcoming hat or instrument case on the ground (the Banjo Man Exception?) is legal.
One resident rose to criticize the city attorney, saying the new ordinance is “not written well” and that she should “start over.”