Council gives first approval to $53.4 million city budget

Columbus city council members have given initial approval to a 2017 city budget, which includes $8.1 million in capital improvement projects.

The proposed 2017 budget, at $53.4 million, is down $277,000 from the 2016 budget, said Jamie Brinegar, the city’s finance director.

In addition to an across-the-board 1.5 percent raise for employees and elected officials next year, the 2017 budget also includes $50,000 for a comprehensive study of city wages and benefits.

Councilman Frank Miller was the only council member to vote against the budget on Tuesday at a city council meeting, saying he did so because he was uncertain about the proposed tax rate of $1.3574 per $100 assessed valuation.

Brinegar said that property tax rate is an estimate and expects that figure to be lower once the state certifies the city’s tax rate sometime in the first quarter of next year. The city had proposed a 1.53 tax rate for 2016, but the rate was later lowered and certified at $1.1343.

Brinegar said the proposed tax rate for 2017 is an 11 percent drop compared to the rate that was proposed for the 2016 budget.

Among the capital improvements planned for next year are $1.75 million in road work for the Maple Street connector project and a redesign of the Taylor Road and Westenedge Drive intersection.

About $1.2 million is earmarked for hangar improvements at the Columbus Municipal Airport, Brinegar said.

Officials have also budgeted $162,000 for upgrades at Columbus City Hall. Among the proposed improvements include replacing carpet, ceiling tiles and possibly replacing furniture in the City Council chambers that can’t be repaired, said Mayor Jim Lienhoop.

In addition, officials plan to look at offices that aren’t being utilized and possibly converting them into meeting or conference areas, he said.

The city’s general fund budget, at $32.4 million, is down about 4.1 percent from 2016, Brinegar said.

City officials have budgeted to add three positions to the Columbus Police Department, two civilians and one patrol officer, Brinegar said. Once the civilians are hired, it will allow the department to move two patrol officers who are performing civilian duties to return to patrol duty.

Brinegar said there are no plans to boost personnel levels in the fire department next year. The department, however, is seeking an additional $50,000 that will be used to purchase equipment available on the west side of town due to the proposed increase in train traffic along Highway 46.

The city is budgeting $322,000 for repairs at Fire Station 1 next year including roof and heating and air conditioning repairs. The city will look at what improvements need to be made at the remaining five stations on an individual basis moving forward, Lienhoop said.

In addition, officials plan to replace two ColumBUS buses in 2017 and have set aside $1 million for that, Brinegar said.

Capital purchases in the city’s transit department are eligible for 80 percent reimbursement from the federal government, so that reimbursement will be returned to the city’s general fund, Brinegar said.

The city is budgeting $550,000 to replace 14 police vehicles, and an additional $125,000 to improve the city’s public safety training grounds. The city has a six-year cycle in replacing police vehicles, Brinegar said.

Brinegar said the city’s revenue projections next year are different than the state, which has estimated $1.6 million less than what it had approved for the city’s 2016 budget. The city is required to use Indiana’s figures when it submits its budget to the state for approval, Brinegar said.

Council members are scheduled to consider the 2017 budget for a second reading at 6 p.m. Oct. 18 at Columbus City Hall.

By the numbers

2017 general fund budget: $32.4 million

Capital improvements: $8.1 million ($5.2 million for transportation needs)

Public safety: $1.7 million, which will be used to replace a portion of the city’s police vehicles, repairs at Fire Station 1, refurbishment of a fire department squad and improvements to the city’s public safety training grounds.

Road improvements: $1.75 million for a Maple Street reconnector project, along with a Taylor Road and Westendge Drive redesign.

Columbus Police Department: Budget proposal calls for three individuals — two civilian and one patrol officer — to be hired next year.