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The Jefferson City Budget Committee started its work Monday evening with the presentation of Mayor Carrie Tergin's proposed budget, which was released last week.

Ward 4 Councilman Ron Fitzwater suggested several items the committee flag to come back to in future meetings.

One of the larger items was the budget for transit services offered by the city, the JeffTran bus system.

Tergin's proposed budget has the department receiving $1.46 million in CARES grant funding to help with operations and recommends a total of $2.3 million over the next two years.

She suggested it as a temporary solution for an ongoing revenue issue.

Fitzwater said he's concerned about the system not being able to support itself long-term and agreed with Tergin's recommendation to consider a bus fee increase or other measure that could help the system be more financially stable.

"I know it isn't palatable to a lot (of people)," he said. "It doesn't generate a lot but it does show a commitment from the people that are utilizing the services."

The JeffTran system charges $1 per ride, and people can apply for a reduced fare of 50 cents per ride.

Ward 4 Councilman Derrick Spicer agreed with Fitzwater it is something worth looking into and trying to determine a more financially stable option for the system.

Ward 5 Councilman Jon Hensley and Ward 3 Councilman Scott Spencer agreed it's a topic to revisit.

"I think that it's maybe not that big of a deal to see about raising the fare from $1 to $1.25," Spicer said. "I don't think it's that big of a deal. I know it's important. People have got to get to the doctor, I understand that."

Ward 1 Councilman David Kemna pointed out what might seem like a small increase to council members could still have a big impact on the people who use the transit service as their primary mode of transportation. He said it's worth discussing, but council members should keep in mind the service's target audience.

"I work downtown, and I've had people come in and ask me for money just so they can get around," he said.

Fitzwater also suggested looking into the parking fee structure to see if there are areas in that department that could be more financially efficient.

Another area of later discussion is Tergin's proposed 3 percent increase for all full-time and part-time employees with benefits. It's estimated to cost the city $850,000 for the year.

Tergin said she wishes it could be higher and better reflect the "pay for performance" philosophy the city tries to use.

Fitzwater said he's concerned an across-the-board pay increase will only contribute to an issue the council has discussed in the past for various departments, but in particular the Jefferson City Police Department: salary compression.

Salary compression refers to when there's not a large enough difference between entry level and more experienced positions.

Fitzwater suggested considering something along the lines of a 1 percent increase across the board and using the other 2 percent to address salary compression within public safety and in particular the police department.

Tergin said she'd considered that, but said there needs to be at least 3 percent across the board and, if the proposed half-cent public safety sales tax passes in November, that could be used to help address salary compression in the police department.

The tax was not factored into the budget because it needs a public vote to be enacted, she said.

If it doesn't pass, the council must consider other ways to address the issue, she said.

The last part of the salary conversation Tergin hopes for is clarification about whether city departments are authorized to award salary/wage increases in relation to merit/performance.

Fitzwater said he agrees with clarifying that standard.

Several council members, Fitzwater included, agreed on discussing an administration charge, which departments pay for administrative services such as the city attorney's office.

Margie Mueller, director of Finance and IT, said there's a formula for most departments that's the same, but the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department has a different one and typically ends up paying about 50 percent of what other departments do.

"I'd say that's been a historical decision certainly before I've been here, so it's just always done it that way," City Administrator Steve Crowell said.

Council members agreed to come back to the issue and discuss whether that's something that should be changed going forward.

Finally, Fitzwater suggested the committee revisit how much the city charges for school resource officers.

Mueller said the current setup is he school district pays about 50 percent of the total budget for school resource officers, and the city covers the other half.

It was a fairly recent change, she said, and before, the district only paid for 50 percent of the salary, but not the full budget.

"We only charged the school district, the Personnel Services line," she said. "So, the other materials and supplies and their repairs and maintenance and training and education, and all those other expenses that go along with those, personnel were not being charged to the schools. So now we instead of just looking at personnel services, we look at the total department budget for school resource officers."

Fitzwater said he understands the benefit for the city to pick up some of that cost but is concerned about the $370,878 the city spends for school resource officers.

"My first read-through the budget, it just caught me off-guard, I guess, a lot or half of it was pushed to us," he said. "I'll wait for that discussion, just something to flag as we're looking for funds to send other places."

The committee will start hearing presentations from departments at its meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

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