City budget includes modest levy increase
The Fairfield Ways and Means Committee took its first look at the proposed 2013-2014 city budget Thursday night.
The budget prepared by City Administrator Kevin Flanagan includes an increase to the city’s levy of about 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The levy is now $15.83 per $1,000 of assessed valuation and the 2013-2014 budget has it at $15.98.
Iowa residential property owners will be taxed at 52.82 percent of their property’s value. Somebody who owns a $100,000 home in Fairfield can expect to pay $844 in city property taxes if the proposed levy is passed compared to $836 under the current levy, assuming the property remains the same value.
Most of the increase in the levy is coming from a 13-cent increase in the emergency levy. The proposed emergency levy is double what it was last year. Flanagan recommended issuing the maximum allowable emergency levy, which is 27 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Flanagan said the emergency levy is going to fund normal city expenses.
Committee member Connie Boyer said she was uneasy about approving the full emergency levy and would need details of the budget before she approved it.
The budget includes cost of living increases of 3 percent for city employees. Boyer said she wanted to ensure that Fairfield was not “at the bottom of the barrel” in employee pay, but she added that Fairfield didn’t need to be a leader, either.
Flanagan said that even with the cost of living raise the Fairfield city employees would still be in the bottom half of city employees across the state.
City Clerk Joy Messer said that city employees will see a 5 percent increase in their health insurance bills, so that 3 percent cost of living raise will be more than eaten up.
The revenues in the 2013-2014 budget are $21,000 greater than the expenses, which are about $5.06 million. The coming fiscal year’s budget includes a new line item, capital projects fund. Flanagan recommended putting $200,000 in this fund. Another new item is environmental planning and sustainability, which is budgeted for $35,000.
Flanagan recommended selling Logan Apartments, explaining to the committee that the city would generate in tax revenue what it earns from the apartments in rent.
“Now is the time to sell it,” he said. “It’s in the best shape it’s ever going to be in.”
Flanagan said in an interview Friday that local governments should foster affordable housing, but it’s not necessary for the government to actually own the housing.
“I don’t think the public model is the best model,” he said. “I think it’s giving way to public-private relationships. We can bring in private dollars through tax breaks.”
Mayor Ed Malloy asked Flanagan about the budget for the Fairfield Media Center (formerly known as the Fairfield Public Access Channel), which was listed at about $60,000. Malloy wondered if FMC is expected to generate any revenue for the city. Flanagan said FMC could generate revenue but he did not put any revenue dollars in FMC’s budget.
The largest general fund is the police department, which represents 20 percent of the city’s budget with expenditures of $1.3 million. Police Chief Julie Harvey fielded a question about a line item for “police reserves” for $1,500.
Harvey explained that the $1,500 was to buy a $900 taser plus cartridges for a reserve officer. She said tasers have reduced significantly the violent incidents between police and the public. She said the use of force has dropped 70 percent since the introduction of tasers.
Personnel expenses are expected to jump 18 percent in the police budget. Flanagan said the increase was due mostly to the rising cost of the officers’ retirement funds.
The committee asked Flanagan and Harvey about hiring an additional officer in order to avoid paying overtime. Harvey said it was actually a financial wash between paying the existing officers overtime and hiring a new officer. Harvey said that paying the officers overtime is very important to keep up their morale.
Malloy asked Harvey why there is such high turnover in the police department. Harvey said many of the officers leave to go to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office, which typically pays the officers about $6,000 more.
Malloy wanted to discuss the pay discrepancy between the police and sheriff, but after the city had finished its budget. Flanagan said the only real way to prevent the city officers from leaving for the sheriff’s office was to pay them more.
The Fairfield Municipal Airport brings in $99,000 and runs expenditures of $130,000. Flanagan said that is excellent. He said most airports in cities Fairfield’s size cost their cities $130,000 instead of only $31,000. He mentioned that part of the reason Fairfield’s airport generates so much money is because it owns a substantial amount of land around the airport, which it rents out.
“It’s a modest budget considering everything we do with the airport,” Flanagan said.
The proposed budget includes a reduction in library materials from $22,000 to $4,000. Fairfield Public Library director Rebecca Huggins said the library board intends to request funding for library materials from the library foundation in order to make up the shortfall.
Flanagan said the reason library materials were cut is because that is a line item that other entities can pay for. He said he would like to see entities beside the city contribute to the library since it is difficult for the city to shoulder the entire burden.
Flanagan said even with the cut to materials the library’s budget is still respectable for a city this size.