Council, staff define what they see as most important city services

Street Department crews scoop snow piles away from the curb and haul it away by the truck load. One of the major cuts planned by the city is street chemicals, which largely pertain to snow removal. (File photo)

Street Department crews scoop snow piles away from the curb and haul it away by the truck load. One of the major cuts planned by the city is street chemicals, which largely pertain to snow removal. (File photo) Photo by Julie Smith.

The Jefferson City Council on Monday night is preparing to approve $1.68 million in budget cuts, which has caused some discussion about what city services are essential.

A poll of City Council members found that police, fire and streets are often thought of as essential. Though all of those departments are looking at proposed cuts, the streets division is facing the largest cut of any department: $478,415.

Last week, 3rd Ward Councilman Bryan Pope said there has been “mission creep” in what is considered to be essential city services.

City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus said there is no set definition as to what is an essential service of a city and what is essential is often determined by council priorities.

“That’s really the great debate of political philosophy,” Nickolaus said. “What is essential to one person may not be essential at all to another person.”

Mayor Eric Struemph said while some departments may be more focused on essential services, each city department is necessary to keep those services operating. But the truly essential services, he said, are focused on public safety.

“It’s the things that keep us safe, it’s the things that build our infrastructure,” Struemph said. “All of our staff plays a role behind every one of those departments.”

Third Ward Councilman Bob Scrivner said all government has a form of what Pope called “mission creep” when it comes to essential services and he would like to see a part of the 2014 budget process focus on evaluating what is truly essential.

“I just think that’s why budgets become bloated,” Scrivner said. “That’s why governmental entities do struggle with deficits ... because you tend to start adding those services.”

Scrivner said the key is balance between the services needed and the services wanted.

Second Ward Councilman Shawn Schulte also said balance is key and that each department is important to the whole of the city.

“The word essential means something different depending on the lens one looks through,” Schulte said. “A particular service to one might be a need and to another a want.”

First Ward Councilman Bob Weber said all city departments provide a vital or essential service, from inspecting local restaurants to putting out fires.

But while essential services may not be able to be strictly defined, some say the top priorities always should be police, fire and streets.

Second Ward Councilman J. Rick Mihalevich said fire, police and public transit are priorities to him. But, he said, street maintenance and repairs, as well as code enforcement, are of high importance.

Pope said essentials to him are police, fire, public works and the transit system; services that people rely on.

Fifth Ward Councilman Larry Henry said public works and public safety are the two most essential city departments, but every department provides a vital service.

“I think everybody serves their purpose and has a role,” Henry said.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Carrie Carroll said essential services revolve around the theme of safety. Fire and police are an obvious component to that, she said, but so is public works, which keeps the streets in safe conditions. (Enlarge snow removal photo)

“Essential is what keeps the community safe,” Carroll said. “It’s what makes you proud, makes you want to live here.”

Fourth Ward Councilman Bill Luebbert also said public safety and public works are essential services, but said wastewater and parking are parts of that as well. Luebbert also said communications is a vital role, though somewhat secondary to police, fire and streets.

Fifth Ward Councilman Ralph Bray said everyone has a different view of what is essential and as the council works through budget issues, he hopes they will get a better understanding of what those services are.

Today's related articles:

City departments outline how they’ll handle cuts

Budget-cut package evolved through three stages

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