The Cherokee City Council held the Public Hearing for the proposed Fiscal Year 2010-2011 Municipal Budget Tuesday night and nobody showed to comment, question or protest.
That is, except for three Council members who were either late for the party or oblivious to the budgeting process that brought the Council to this point - the time for the adoption of the budget and the certification of taxes at a Public Hearing as required by State Law.
Ultimately, after much anguish and gnashing of teeth, the Council voted unanimously to adopt the budget and the certification of taxes related to that budget. But it came bloodied with a contentious battle.
The first vote to adopt the budget, which must be certified by Monday (March 15), failed on a 2-2 vote, which shocked Mayor Mark Murphy, City Administrator Don Eikmeier, City Clerk Deb Taylor, City Attorney Wally Miller, and, admittedly, City Council Member Linda Burkhart.
Council member Dan Morrow inexplicably abstained from voting, while Burkhart and Council member Jim Peck voted yes, and Council members Mick Mallory and Greg Stieneke voted no.
Burkhart said she was dumbfounded at the vote because the Council, under the guidance of Eikmeier, Taylor and Murphy, had attended four budget workshops the past few weeks and had labored over and passed the budget onto Tuesday's Public Hearing, where the 2-2 vote and Morrow's abstention served to pull the rug out from under everyone else involved in the process.
"What do we do now?" inquired Taylor, facing State mandated timelines and deadlines to certify, publish, and adopt the proposed FY 2010-2011 budget. "We have to move ahead on this," added Taylor, also a sentiment echoed by Eikmeier and Murphy.
Taylor said she had never witnessed "anything like this" in her 30-plus years at City Hall.
Taylor must submit the budget for certification to the State Department of Managament and the Cherokee County Auditor by Monday.
As it unraveled, it was clear that Mallory and Stieneke, very vocal in their criticisms, still had unresolved issues with the budget that obviously blindsided Eikmeier, Murphy, Burkhart and Taylor after the four individual workshops devoted strictly to the budget.
Morrow said nothing, except to abstain on the vote for the budget. After much tense discussion and finger-pointing between Burkhart, Mallory and Stieneke, and with Eikmeier and Murphy weighing in, Morrow then joined the rest of the Council to ultimately adopt the budget on a 5-0 vote.
But it was clear that Mallory, Stieneke and Morrow were still confused and questioning what had just transpired. As Eikmeier continually attempted to point out, the trio was not grasping the fact that the Council can address, act and react on budget issues as they surface as each Fiscal Year plays out. The budget is, after all, an estimate and can be tweaked on the fly by the Council.
A proposal a few weeks ago initiated by Eikmeier and a motion made by Burkhart Tuesday night calling for a franchise fee of 3-percent on gas/electric customers in Cherokee - a means to increase City revenues - was defeated on a 3-2 vote by the Council, with Burkhart and Peck voting yes, and Mallory, Stieneke and Morrow voting no.
After discussion, a motion to approve a 2-percent franchise fee was passed, with Burkhart, Peck, and Mallory voting yes, and Stieneke and Morrow voting no.
A 3-percent fee would have generated $160,000 in additional tax revenue for the City, with $67,315 dedicated to the General Fund to strengthen the City's dwindling cash reserves, $28,000 to the Street Fund, and $64,685 to reduce property tax an additional $0.58 per $1,000 valuation.
As approved, the 2-percent franchise fee will generate half that, $80,000 in additional tax revenue, with $52,000 going to the General Fund, and $28,000 for the Street Fund. No additional monies will be available to reduce the property tax rate.
State Law allows up to 5-percent franchise fees for Iowa municipalities.
According to the proposed budget, the City's 2010-2011 property tax rate would total $17.02 per $1,000 valuation. Last year's rate was $19.78 per $1,000. The estimated tax levy rate per $1,000 on agricultural land is $3.00.
A copy of the FY 2010-2011 budget is available at City Hall.
The Council also continued to enter into labor negotiations in closed session after Tuesday's meeting.
In December, the labor negotiations proposals for the City and for the International Union of Operating Engineers, and the Cherokee Policeman's Association, were published in a Chronicle Times City Council story.
Among the askings in the IUOE labor contract proposal was a change from $8 to $10 for call-in pay, a 4.5-percent ATB wage increase each of the next two fiscal years, and a change in the language concerning the City's Discipline Policy.
The Policeman's Association asked for a 4-percent wage increase, a 3-year contract versus the current 2-years, and an increase in life insurance from $10,000 to $50,000.
The City's proposal for the IUOE is for 0-percent ATB increase for the next 2-year contract, and the City will continue to pay 100-percent insurance premium for single coverage and 95-percent for employees with dependents. Health Insurance benefits would change from $10 per visit Co-Pay to $25 per visit, the individual deductible would change from $500 to $1,000, and the family deductible will change from $1,000 to $2,000.
For the Policeman's Association, the City proposes a 0-percent ATB increase for the next 2-year contract, plus the same changes in insurance as with the IUOE.
According to Taylor, the labor negotiations with both groups will now go to mediation.
Citizen Mike Morrow, a frequent and vocal visitor at City Council meetings, appeared before the Council during the Public Forum period to complain about the City clearing an alley near his residence and allegedly pushing snow onto private property.
He also complained about residents not clearing snow from their sidewalks and driveways, about snowmobilers and 4-wheelers violating City Code while recklessly driving about, especially near his property on the way to the Little Sioux River. He also complained about the City not licensing dogs and cats and said he knew of people who shoot loose or stray cats. He also complained about people parking trailers and vehicles in City parking lots for extended periods of time and questioned the City and Police Chief Steve Schuck for not enforcing the laws.
After listening intently throughout Morrow's spiel, Eikmeier finally told him that he would be in contact with him to discuss all the allegations.
In other action, the Council approved submitting an application for an Energy Efficient Block Grant geared at encouraging residential and commercial energy conservation.
Eikmeier also advised that he, Mayor Murphy, and Council member Stieneke would accompany the Wednesday bus trip to the Capitol to show support for the Cherokee MHI amidst proposed Department of Human Services and State budget cuts.