JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown City Council has approved a $36 million 2021 budget, but the vote only came after 17 different amendments were considered – with all but one being approved.
During Monday night’s virtual council meeting, the council presented, discussed and voted on the 17 changes to mayor Eddie Sundquist’s original $34.9 million executive budget that was presented in October. A complete list of amendments is provided at the end of this article.
Many of the amendments were fleshed out during last week’s budget work session, including the removal of the mayor’s proposal to change the healthcare provider for a group of retirees, which resulted in several current and retired city workers picketing in front of city hall on Nov. 16. The change by the council resulted in $1 million in expenses being added back into the budget, meaning the council had to identify other revenue or expense adjustments to offset the retiree insurance cost. The vote on that amendment wasn’t unanimous, with freshman councilman Grant Olson (R-Ward 5) voting against it.
The biggest adjustment came by way of using $436,000 from the city fund balance, which was also discussed last week. Another change came from increasing projected sales tax revenue by $200,000. And the council opted not to pursue a slight property tax decrease, which provided another $115,000 on the revenue side. Both of those items were also discussed during last week’s work session.
But one item that wasn’t discussed last week and which was approved as an amendment on Monday night with no public discussion was the elimination of the city Recreation Coordinator Position, which would remove $54,000 in expenses off the ledger. The decision would lead to a layoff of a current employee, something Mayor Sundquist had said he wanted to avoid if possible. Councilman Brent Sheldon (R-Ward 1) was the only member to vote against the cut.
The council also opted not to create a new Grant Writer/Communications position, nor create a full time position for a maintenance mechanic. That provided another $95,000 in savings.
And the council opted not to boost downtown parking fees nor parking violation fines for next year. That resulted in over $53,000 in revenue being cut from the budget. The vote on the parking fee amendment was unanimous approval. But both councilmen Tom Nelson (D-Ward 6) and Jeff Russell (R-At Large) voted against the amendment cutting parking violation revenue – a sign they were in favor of boosting the fines to bring in more revenue.
The one proposed amendment that failed to receive enough support was cutting the vehicle lease cost from the mayor’s budget. The move was identified as a $2600 savings, but Olson pointed out that if the lease agreement for next year was already signed, the city would still be obligated to pay that amount, even if the vehicle was returned. As a result, Olson and four other members voted against the amendment.
While not all amendments were approved unanimously, the council did eventually vote on a final revised spending plan and that did receive a unanimous vote.
City finance Chair Kim Ecklund (R-At Large), who oversaw the budget discussion and amendment process, said it was a very challenging spending plan.
“There were some tough decisions in this budget for all of us. I know that not everyone is going to like what happened or is going to be happy. Some people may even be the opposite. So they were tough decisions we all had to take into consideration not only for our city residents and the tax base, but also for the employees as a whole and the resident,”
Ecklund also said there remains several concerns, even after the budget was finalized.
“The health insurance, even with this $1 million added back in, is always a big gamble and a big risk. The sales tax addition [of $200,000] is a shot in the dark. While I support it, it is concerning to me. Also we have open litigation with costs that are unknown that is concerning to me – nothing that the mayor could have predicted or added at that point. There’s additional state aid, other things with bonds, and cost of translation that I think are great things we need to do for the city and are technology based that we’re short on, and that we did not include in this budget and neither did the mayor,” Ecklund said.
The council also commended first-year Mayor Eddie Sundquist and his new administrative staff for trying to put together a spending plan during a pandemic. Council president Tony Dolce (R-Ward 2), who’s served on the council for more than two decades, said it was one of the most challenging budgets he’s had to work on.
“This is not a perfect budget by any stretch of the imagination. We have worked diligently and conservatively over the past several years to build up the fund balance to $4 million. To have to spend almost half a million dollars of it is not something that we take lightly or want to do,” Dolce said. “We take this very seriously. It’s very difficult. It can be stressful. We say that every year during budget time that it’s stressful and difficult, and a lot of difficult decisions have to be made. We do not take this lightly.”
The budget will now go before the mayor to either sign off on or veto. Under the city charter, he has the ability to veto any or all amendments to the budget. He has until next Monday to decide if he wants to veto the spending plan or not. If vetoes are issues, the council would then have until Dec. 15 to address them.
2021 BUDGET AMENDMENTS
- Amendment 1 – Update Dental Insurance Expenses – $35,000 Expenditure Reduction
- Amendment 2 – Maintain Retiree Health Insurance Program – $1,000,000 Expenditure Addition (Nay vote: Grant Olson)
- Amendment 3 – Employee Retirement System Amortization Adjustment – $100,000 Expenditure Addition
- Amendment 4 – Removal of Communications/Grant Writer (new position) – $58,447.93 Expenditure Reduction
- Amendment 5 – Removal of Equip Purchase (Projector and TV for Mayor’s Conference Room) – $2,100 Expenditure Reduction
- Amendment 6 – Reduce Dept. of Development Contract Expense – $12,400 Expenditure Reduction
- Amendment 7 – Remove Full Time Maintenance Mechanic Position – $37,015.80 Expenditure Reduction
- Amendment 8 [FAILED] – Remove Vehicle Lease Expense for Mayor – $2,600 Expenditure Reduction (Nay votes: Sheldon, Olson, Nelson, Tamu Graham Reinhardt, Russell)
- Amendment 9 – Assessor Position Adjustment – $2,500 Expenditure Reduction
- Amendment 10 – Gas and Fuel Expenses on a Certain Take-home Department Vehicle – $500 Expenditure Reduction
- Amendment 11 – Adjust Contingency Fund to 2020 level – $200,000 Expenditure Reduction
- Amendment 12 – Eliminate Recreation Coordinator Position – $53,970 Expenditure Reduction (Nay vote: Sheldon)
- Amendment 13 – Increase 2021 Sales Tax Projection – $200,000 Revenue Addition
- Amendment 14 – Parking Fee Revenue Adjustment – $29,045.09 Revenue Reduction
- Amendment 15 – Parking Violation Revenue Adjustment – $24,329.13 Revenue Reduction (Nay: Russell, Nelson)
- Amendment 16 – Property Tax Rate Adjustment to 2020 Level – $115,298.70 Revenue Addition
- Amendment 17 – Appropriation of Fund Balance – $436,138.53 Revenue Addition