City Budget moves aheadCouncil approves more funding for local groups
After several work sessions lasting well into the evening over the last few months, the Washington City Council Tuesday gave its OK for the $19 million budget for the next fiscal year to move ahead toward approval.
City Administrator Brent Hinson said today that with the last of the budget issues needing council input taken care of Tuesday evening, city employees will begin to add the changes the council made to the final draft. The state budget forms will be filled out. During its Feb. 20 meeting, the council will set the public hearing for the budget, which will probably be held on March 6. The budget will be published in The Washington Evening Journal at least 10 days in advance of the hearing.
“The council, at that point, can’t increase the budget. They can only decrease the budget,” Hinson said. “Typically at that point we hope we’ve done enough that it is pretty well settled.”
During Tuesday evening’s four-hour meeting, the council heard from four city-funded groups with funding requests, set the water rates for the next year, and heard a request for funding the proposed Wellness Park from one of their own.
Representatives from PAWS and More, Main Street Washington (MSW), the Washington Economic Development Group (WEDG), and Washington Tourism Committee – an offshoot of the Washington Chamber of Commerce — all made presentations. All groups asked for more funding this year than last. All the funding, except PAWS and More, is done with money the city receives from the Washington County Riverboat Foundation.
Despite objections from councilman Bob Shellmyer, who requested the city continue funding the groups at the same level as last year, the council agreed to increase the city’s funding to all the groups.
Shellmyer also objected to Mayor Sandra Johnson’s statement that how the city allocates funding to the groups is a reflection of how much the city values the groups’ services. Shellmyer said that the main thing to consider is if the city has the funds.
PAWS and More had requested $15,000 this year, after receiving $10,000 last year. The council approved granting $10,000 plus $2,500 to be used for a special spay and neuter program.
The tourism committee received a requested $15,000, increased from $10,000 last year. Director Michelle Peiffer said that money would be used for operating expenses.
MSW also received an increase from $10,000 to $15,000. Director Sarah Sadrakula said that since its inception, the group has held several hundred thousand dollars worth of workshops and architectural consultations, which has resulted in $3.5 million of private investment in the downtown area.
WEDG asked for and got $20,000 from the city. Director Ed Raber said that the group has helped bring a revolving loan fund to the area and a housing trust fund.
“I’m seeing us going down the same path we went down a few years ago,” Shellmyer said.
The council approved a scenario for increasing water rates that will raise usage rates by 15 percent for three years and 11.5 percent on the fourth year. The additional money will be used for several water projects that are required to be completed soon.
“A minimum user is going to see less than a $2 increase,” Hinson said. “The council, by not increasing the base rate, it makes the percentage look higher but ultimately they are being more compassionate to the smaller users and not sticking them with a bigger increase than we have to.”
The 1 million gallon Washington storage tank, located just south of the water plant, is scheduled to be replaced this year at the cost of $1,382,000. Hinson said the existing aquarium is showing many structural defects, including large cracks around the outside. He said if the city doesn’t take action, the Department of Natural Resources could prohibit the city from using it.
During the meeting Hinson said that the city’s oldest water tower, built in 1947, is structurally unsound and needs replacement. He said the rivets holding the top on have corroded.
“Theoretically, the wind could blow the top of the tower off,” he said.
Mark Kendall made a motion to fund the proposed Wellness Park, which is slated to be located on plot of land north of Washington, to earmark funds for the project for $100,000 over the next four years died for lack of a second.
Originally, councilman Merle Hagie had seconded the motion, but withdrew after learning the funding could come from the Washington County Riverboat Foundation (WCRF) fund that is used for city maintenance, including street work.
“I love the motion, but I don’t like how it would be funded,” Hagie said.
The WPC could use the funds as seed money in order to receive WCRF grants, Kendall said.
Hinson strongly encouraged the council not to approve the money, saying it would reduce funding for municipal work.
Shellmyer said that the city had given the committee $500,000 worth of land for the project. He also said that the committee had promised the city that no city funding would be used for the completion of the project.