Claremont City Council Approves Budget

Valley News Correspondent
Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Claremont — The City Council on Wednesday night approved a $17.28 million budget for the fiscal year beginning on July 1 that is projected to increase the city portion of the property tax rate by 34 cents to $15.18 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

The increase would add $51 a year in taxes to a property assessed at $150,000.

The council’s final budget reflects a reduction of $47,400 from the $17.33 million budget proposed by City Manager Ryan McNutt and is 5.6 percent, or nearly $916,000, more than this year’s.

The council spent most of the budget discussion on two main areas: $12,500 reduction in the airport budget for consulting services and a 25 percent cut ($20,700) in the line item for legal assistance. The council agreed that if a person with legal training is hired for the position in the coming fiscal year, it probably would not happen until the early fall, so funding the full year’s salary is not necessary. The rest of the $14,200 in reductions were $4,000 or less across different departments.

The airport budget reduction, first proposed by McNutt Wednesday night, would pay for a lot of the operational work now done by the fire chief.

Councilor Nick Koloski, who voted against the cut, said it is “ridiculous” that the fire chief has go to the facility to do such tasks as checking fuel levels in the tank or changing lawn mower blades.

“If we remove the $12,500, we stay with the status quo,” Koloski said.

But others, including council member Jeremy Zullo, said they should look at funding the costs another way, such as increasing hangar fees, instead of putting it on the tax rate, which would be 2 cents.

Mayor Charlene Lovett recommended getting the opinion of the Airport Advisory Board as to the needs at the airport.

“We should hear from them. That is the process I would like to follow,” Lovett said.

The council voted, 6-3, to reduce the proposed $82,000 to hire a person trained in legal matters — though not a lawyer — after a motion to eliminate all funding for the position failed, 5-4.

McNutt and Finance Director Mary Walter told the council again on Wednesday night that many of the departments, including human resources, assessing and McNutt’s office, often need someone with a legal background to advise them on the preparation of certain documents and other issues.

Walter said she is worried about putting the city in legal jeopardy unless they have someone with the proper training. The city no longer has in-house counsel and now relies on contracted services. This hire would alleviate some of that expense at a lower cost.

The job would not always means issuing legal opinions but could mean tracking down data for right-to-know requests, McNutt said.

There also was a motion to cut the line item for call firefighters’ pay by $3,000 but it failed in a 4-4 vote with Koloski, a volunteer firefighter, recusing himself from the vote.

Some of the major increases in the budget are in assessing, including $235,000 for a citywide property revaluation and another $35,000 in consulting services. The municipal complex budget is up 33 percent, and planning and development has a 29 percent jump. The increases are for capital projects: $140,000 for municipal complex and $240,000 for planning and development. The planning and development projects include pre-construction design work for major improvements to Pleasant Street.

The police budget and fire budgets both have decreases. The streets and road budget is up $50,000 to $2.7 million with $225,000 in the budget for paving, less than half the department’s request of $500,000.

McNutt’s initial budget proposal carried an 82 cent increase, which most councilors said was far too much. In addition to the cuts, the council also increased the non-tax revenue side by $300,000 to reduce the projected tax rate increase and $500,000 is being used from fund balance, also to lower the tax rate impact.

The council also approved water and sewer budgets, which are supported by user fees, not tax dollars.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.