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More funds for public safety, expanded hours at Columbus Transit and improving animal care in the community are among the components of the city’s 2014 budget that support Mayor Kristen Brown’s highest priorities.
The $49.3 million 2014 city budget, approved Tuesday by City Council, increased about 7 percent from 2013’s approved $46.2 million budget. However, this year the city is spending more than $2.2 million in funds from a tax distribution error. That means actual spending for this year and next year are about the same.
“We did this all with effectively flat property tax revenue and with the loss of $1.4 million out of the revenue from the trash fees,” Brown said. “We were able to make investments through efficiencies. We found a lot of cost efficiencies in the last year and a half and have been able, with a basically flat budget, to make some good investments.”
City Council approved the budget on second and final reading Tuesday with only one minor change since its first approval two weeks earlier: adding $3,036 to cover a pay raise and associated benefits for Clerk-Treasurer Luann Welmer.
Brown touted the budget, which she said held property taxes about even, did not rely on deficit spending and made progress on several of the goals she outlined in her Advance Columbus plan.
The biggest change by category was in the thoroughfare fund. It is increasing by about $1 million, due mostly to roughly $1.6 million included to pay for improvements on Indiana Avenue in the East Columbus neighborhood.
Brown said that included more than $600,000 for engineering work, 80 percent of which would be reimbursed by the federal government. The amount also included $1 million, the city’s share of the $5 million project, of which the rest will be paid by the federal government.
According to details from the city engineer’s office, the city plans to improve almost a mile of the street, adding sidewalks, parking lanes, bicycle lanes and a storm sewer system. The street is a main artery serving Columbus East High School.
She said the goal is “making a safer route for pedestrians and bicyclists, particularly those kids going to East High School.”
Other large increases included about $450,000 for a 2 percent pay raise for all city employees and $435,000 for capital improvements in the parks department.
Brown said that before this budget, the parks department had been budgeting less than $50,000 a year for capital expenses.
“We went for a significant increase in the capital budget to fund maintenance in our existing parks facilities,” Brown said.
Jeff Logston, the director of finance and administration for the city, said earlier in the budget process that traditionally the department would fund large capital expenses by borrowing money.
This year the city tapped into money left over from two state tax distribution errors to pay more than $1 million to repair the Hamilton Ice Arena roof. At Tuesday’s Board of Works meeting, Ben Wagner, director of the parks department, said the work was proceeding on the roof and crews already had finished the repairs to the small ice arena.
Council member Frank Miller voted against the 2014 budget, which passed 5-1. The at-large seat vacated by Aaron Hankins has yet to be filled.
Miller said he mainly was casting a protest vote against the convoluted budget process that he said has “bubble gum and Scotch tape holding the process together.”
“Nothing is going to change on the way we do budgets in the state of Indiana, quickly, but it is still a vote against the process,” Miller said.
Some of the major changes between the 2013 and 2014 budget:
- About $450,000 for a 2 percent pay increase for city workers.
- $60,000 to expand the hours of operation at Columbus Transit.
- $31,200 for the addition of two part-time workers at Animal Care Services.
- $435,000 for capital improvements in the parks department.
- Ambulance fee to Columbus Regional Hospital reduced to zero from $150,000.
- $173,000 for the addition of two police officers who will serve as school resource officers for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., of which $145,000 would be reimbursed.
- $428,100 increase in capital expenses to build two hangars at Columbus Municipal Airport.
- $300,000 to the fire department to pay for paramedic training for 10 firefighters.
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