JC Council’s 2014 budget evolved over two months

The Jefferson City Council finalized the 2014 budget last week, a budget of roughly $28 million in general fund revenues and expenses.

During the nearly two month long process, the City Council made a number of changes to the budget proposed by Mayor Eric Struemph in July.

JCTV

Struemph’s budget had eliminated the funding for JCTV, which received $110,00 this fiscal year, $55,000 less than in previous years. In order to allow the city to continue its online streaming of council meetings, Struemph also had added $5,000 to allow for a part-time camera operator.

But the City Council opted to keep a small level of funding for the station, approving a $55,000 allocation for JCTV for the 2014 fiscal year. The city’s contract with Lincoln University and JCTV will have to be renegotiated to reflect the lowered funding level.

Because of the allocation of funding, the council also voted to remove the $5,000 line item for a part-time camera person and put that money into the fund balance.

City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus said the question now is what will Lincoln University do to keep the station going.

“The ball is in Lincoln’s court,” Nickolaus said. “$55,000 is not enough to run it the way it was being run.”

Station Manager Gloria Enloe said the original funding level of $165,000 from the city was almost entirely used for staff salaries. She said the station has been discussing several contingency plans since the budget process began to keep them operational in case of any loss of funding.

“We’ve been talking about that here at Lincoln University,” Enloe said. “Now it’s just back to the drawing board. We’re going to figure out which one of those plans best meets the funding level that we received and then proceed with a mixture of city funding, LU funding and fundraising dollars.”

The station also is in the process of trying to get agreements worked out with other entities. Enloe said the station is in the process of setting up an agreement with the Jefferson City Public Schools, which would provide around $7,500 if approved by the school district.

“That’s one of the bigger projects that we’re targeting right now,” Enloe said. “It’s kind of an indication of where we’re hoping to go in the future.”

Fire chief

A last-minute addition to the budget by Struemph was funding six months of a full-time fire chief. Since former Fire Chief Bob Rennick retired earlier this year, Jason Turner has been serving in the interim.

The allocation of $70,000 assumes an annual salary of $100,000, with 30 percent for benefits and an added 10 percent for the firemen’s pension, Nickolaus said.

But during the budget shortfall earlier this year, it was said the city would operate under a hiring freeze, keeping positions vacant until at least the 2015 fiscal year to save money. Nickolaus said the majority of the city’s budget, nearly 78 percent, is personnel expenses, which means to keep costs under control in the long-term, personnel costs have to be kept down, but there are two “schools of thought” on the issue.

The first, he said, is where management positions would be trimmed first, allowing more rank-and-file positions to be filled, while the other would fill more management positions and trim the rank-and-file positions. Nickolaus said the council has indicated a desire to fill the management positions, which may be more of a perception issue than anything else.

Struemph said he believes it’s important to fill the position, especially after a long-term employee like Rennick has left.

“A public safety department of that size needs leadership,” Struemph said.

Finance director

Struemph’s budget included $130,000 for a full-time finance director, a job that has been performed in the interim by Information Technology Director Bill Betts.

But the council made one last adjustment to Struemph’s proposal, lowering the salary to $120,500 to allow the city to purchase new applicant tracking software for the Human Resources Department. The amount taken from the salary would equate to about four weeks of pay for a finance director, but Nickolaus noted the city is not going to be able to get someone in that position by Nov. 1 anyway.

Nickolaus had suggested possibly using an agency to provide an interim director while the city undergoes the search process for a permanent replacement. When asked why not keep Betts in the interim instead of hiring a new interim director, Nickolaus said he believed that was the direction the council wanted to go, though he is no longer sure of that.

He said Betts has been doing a fantastic job as interim finance director, but got the feeling the council wanted someone else in that position as soon as possible.

“Frankly, Bill’s one of the best finance directors I’ve ever known,” Nickolaus said. “(The council) thinks a person with a different sort of credentials is what’s necessary ... I don’t know that the council supports that, it doesn’t seem like they do.”

Struemph agreed that the council is not supportive of the plan to hire an agency to provide an interim, but refused to comment further.

Contingency fund

Included in both Struemph’s and Nickolaus’ proposed budgets was a line item for contingency funds. The amount fluctuated throughout the process, going from Nickolaus’ proposed $50,000 to Struemph’s $122,000. Later on, Struemph reduced the line item to $72,000 after the announcement of RR Donnelley’s closure.

But the council opted to eliminate the line item completely, choosing to deposit those funds back into the fund balance, where only the council can authorize a transfer. Contingency funds would have been able to be allocated, within a certain limit, by the city administrator.

Nickolaus said the city has adequate reserves, but the contingency fund was meant to cover little things that pop up during the year and may not be important enough to need council attention.

“It just gives you a little bit of slack in the system,” Nickolaus said. “The budget will not be right ... having a little extra money in there for when your estimates are wrong is good.”

Though Struemph initially had supported the contingency fund, he said he supports the council’s decision to put the money back into the fund balance.

“I actually agree,” Struemph said. “If something essential comes up, we can look at it and take it out of the fund balance if need be, but that would be a council decision.”

Other changes

The council made several other changes to the budget, including transferring $5,000 from the special events line item to Salute to America, brining the total level of funding for the event to $10,000. The city had planned to fund the event at $10,000 anyway, but was going to take the funds from the special events line item.

The council also opted to provide $2,500 to the Cultural Arts Commission for public art.

And, as a final change before the council passed final approval of the budget, the council approved $9,500 for the purchase of new applicant tracking software for the Human Resources Department. The funds for the software came from the finance director salary.

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