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Council stalls budget
Aldermen pass 50 percent with capital funds, send operating back to staff
Monroe City Hall Sign

MONROE — The last action item on the special Monroe Common Council meeting agenda Nov. 14 was to adopt the 2019 budget, but aldermen only managed to meet the goal halfway before hitting another roadblock.

Council members deliberated for over an hour and a half in front of an audience of roughly 40 people, but ended the night at City Hall with only the capital portion of the budget approved at the request of Alderman Michael Boyce, who said operating and capital should be considered apart from one another. Capital is funding set aside for expenses like new equipment or facilities updates that can be paid for without borrowing funds. 

The $605,000 capital budget was passed on a 7-2 vote. Aldermen Mickey Beam, Brooke Bauman, Chris Beer, Jeff Newcomer, Richard Thoman, Rob Schilt and Boyce voted in its favor. Fellow council members Ron Marsh and Donna Douglas voted against it. Marsh had expressed a desire to use a portion of capital funds to address a revenue shortage.

The operating budget has been a contentious point for two main reasons emphasized during the public hearing Nov. 5. 

One is the replacement of late director of parks and forestry, Paul Klinzing. The position of parks supervisor is not funded through the proposed 2019 budget, instead allocating “a couple thousand dollars,” City Administrator Phil Rath said, for reassigning duties to two possible assistant positions. The duties would be reassigned to current city employees.  

Public opposition to not filling the parks supervisor position with a full-time expert who also understands forestry prompted the special meeting by council members as a committee of the whole. 

Much of the conversation Wednesday included concern over the plan to not fill two Monroe Police Department positions for people who may be retiring in 2019. Rath said that funding given to the department could cover the position salaries if neither decided to leave next year, but an additional $37,000 would be needed. Rath noted during the meeting that the budget is constructed to avoid loss of jobs.

In discussion, council members deduced that roughly $115,000 would be needed if the city were to employ a full-time parks supervisor and retain both police positions next year. 

Aldermen were split on whether the funding should be identified for both. Most members of council expressed a desire to retain police officer positions, regardless of possible retirements. 

Beer said if anything, police officers should be increased, given the current societal issues of drug abuse and violence. 

Boyce expressed a problem with using capital to fund salaries and other budget shortcomings when the city continues to struggle with a deficit.

“If we take a step backwards … we’re just that much further away from getting to where we need to be, to setting a sustainable budget,” Boyce said, echoing Thoman’s earlier calls for a sustainable budget in the face of tough decisions. “To take a step backwards really doesn’t make much sense.”

A proposal to remove the 2.25 percent cost-of-living increase for employees in order to help fund a full-time supervisor and the $37,000 needed for the police department was also not advised by Boyce, who said he had spoken with a number of employees who were “excited” to see the wage increase, especially those who recently dissolved the labor union.

Bauman said the total cost for the city to grant the increase to city workers would be $67,000, adding that she did not agree with granting raises while not filling positions. 

Schilt said he did not support spreading duties out to valuable employees. He thanked department heads for proposing ideas to administration on how to fill the parks supervisor position while cutting costs in other areas. A letter from Director of Public Works Al Gerber and interim Parks and Forestry contact Matt Skibba, who serves full-time as the city recreation supervisor, had been submitted to council members outlining those ideas.

“I know some others might not agree, but I do because it shows that they care,” Schilt said, adding that he would rather place trust in the people running city departments.

Douglas said if she were a city employee, she would be “disturbed” to be asked to do additional tasks without training or with additional training, adding that Monroe “deserves a parks supervisor.”

Marsh called for the operating budget to be again considered by Rath and other administrative staff to find the $115,000 to cover all costs. Council members made noises of general agreement that the request was essentially asking Rath “to do the impossible.” 

Lengthy discussion also centered around the council’s inability to make a decision. When Boyce asked why they would proceed with making staff find the amount for more consideration instead of placing a “Band-Aid” on the issue, Beer said the city has the same discussion each year.

“I know (decisions) are tough and I don’t agree with all of them either, but we have to find a way to pass a budget for this city that can be maintained not this year, not next year, but for the next 20, 30, 50 years,” Beer said. “We are going to run out of funds to put those Band-Aids on.”

A slim margin of 5-4 passed the operating budget back to staff for re-evaluation. Bauman, Marsh, Schilt, Douglas and Beam voted in favor of it, while Beer, Newcomer, Thoman and Boyce voted no.

Council will consider the operating budget again Monday. When Beer asked whether council members would receive a copy of the updates prior to the meeting, Rath said he was “highly doubtful.”