City considering 6% budget increase

Columbus City Council members are preparing to consider the city’s proposed $52.5 million budget for final approval Tuesday.

The 2016 budget, crafted by Mayor Kristen Brown and her administration, is about 6 percent higher than this year’s $49.6 million budget.

City attorney Jeff Logston said the $2.9 million in additional funds are anticipated to be received through city tax revenue, leaving a cushion of about $18,000 between what is anticipated to be received in taxes and expenses projected for next year.

The ordinance for appropriations and tax rates shows the tax levy increasing from $28,830,859 this year to $30,255,268 projected for 2016. Tax rates are set by the Department of Local Government and Finance after the state reviews the budget.

Councilmen approved the budget on first reading Oct. 6 without making any changes or suggestions.

Council President Tim Shuffett said council members received the draft budget from the mayor at the end of August, and two or three of the council members talked to city attorney Jeff Logston with a few questions.

Shuffett said councilmen did not have any serious concerns as he said the budget doesn’t have significant changes from the previous year, other than a capital expense for a van for Animal Care Services.

The mayor this year did not schedule public budget hearings, during which department heads appear before the council to answer questions about their budgets.

However, Councilman Frank Jerome said he would like to see arts funding — eliminated in the proposed budget — returned for next year.

The city’s 2014 budget provided $148,140 for the Columbus Area Arts Council and $19,800 for Mill Race Center through the city’s economic development tax fund.

In the 2015 budget, however, Brown removed line-item funding for both organizations and instead set up a grant program in the budgets of the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department and The Commons. The city budgeted $50,000 this year for the grants and had distributed all but about $5,000 of that as of last week.

Brown said because of the extraordinary needs in transit and road work, not every city department head’s capital requests could be granted.

Capital expenditures in the 2016 budget include:

A $6 million road project, reconstructing Rocky Ford Road from Talley to Taylor roads, with the city’s share estimated at $2.2 million.

A police department capital request of $635,000 for vehicles, vests, SWAT vests, soundproofing the interrogation room, a new K-9 and laptop replacement.

A fire department request for $756,962, for station maintenance and replacing Squad 1, a heavy rescue piece of equipment used in accident extrications and mutual-aid calls on water rescues. The current Squad 1 is a 1998 model.

Capital expense for a van for Animal Care Services and interior and exterior maintenance, $85,000.

$479,745 to replace the city’s 800 Megahertz radio system, although agreements are pending with Columbus Regional Hospital, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. and Bartholomew County to reimburse $100,536.56 from each entity in 2016.

Operational expenditures in the 2016 budget include:

2 percent raises for city employees and elected city officials, estimated to cost $700,000.

Adding a full-time, second-shift mechanic in the transit department, $55,256.

$50,000 for the Metropolitan Planning Organization for consulting fees. The city says 80 percent of this will be refunded by the federal government.

Addition of a full-time Animal Care Services officer, $58,167.

In addition, the city is planning to replace two buses for the Transit Department as the fleet has reached its 10-year-limit of service, said Matt Caldwell, city operations and finance director, who presented the budget to councilmen Oct. 6. Estimated cost is $1.35 million, the budget’s executive summary states.

Federal funding will reimburse the city for 80 percent of the cost of the buses, Logston said.

The city will start by replacing two of the large buses and also replace transmissions and engines on three other buses, Caldwell said.

Although the buses can be ordered in 2016 if the budget is approved, they won’t be delivered to the city until 2018, Caldwell said.

Caldwell removed a multimedia resource position in operations and finance at a savings of $52,375.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”If you go” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

What: Columbus City Council meeting

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Columbus City Hall

On the agenda: 2016 city budget hearing

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2016 Columbus city budget

Estimated revenue: $52,615,228.46

Estimated expenses: $52,597,178.32

Difference: $18,050.14

Past budgets

The city has approved the following budgets over the past five years:

  • 2015: $49.6 million
  • 2014: $49.3 million
  • 2013: $46.2 million
  • 2012: $48.6 million
  • 2011: $44.8 million