One last bump before council sets its budgetThe Farmington City Council approved its 2012 budget and levy Monday, but not without one more hiccup and some strong words of concern from mayor Todd Larson.
By: Michelle Leonard, The Farmington Independent
The Farmington City Council approved its 2012 budget and levy Monday, but not without one more hiccup and some strong words of concern from mayor Todd Larson.
Council members reaffirmed their support of an $8,718,968 tax levy for 2013, and approved a budget that reflects that same amount for 2013. The budget includes $152,986 in cuts that were made during a Dec. 10 budget workshop.
There was one last-minute adjustment made to the budget Monday, though. Council members had been asked to approve a 1 percent salary adjustment for a group of city employees who are not represented by unions. The increase would have meant an expenditure of approximately $10,000, but council members decided to hold off on the salary adjustments until next year.
Non-represented employees include department directors, administrative staff and police administration among others. In the past, the employees had been assigned to a wage scale “step” program, with department directors on the higher end of the step program and positions like administrative employees on the lower end of the scale. The wage increase proposed this week would have been only for employees on the lower end of the scale.
For council member Terry Donnelly, who voted against the raise, “it’s a question of fairness,” he said.
“It’s $10,000 to the city, but I think it’s going to be a morale problem. It’s going to be a motivation problem. If we go with what’s on the agenda, some get a raise, some don’t. That’s going to be an issue,” Donnelly said.
Council member Christy Jo Fogarty initially voted in favor of the raise because removing the $10,000 from the budget would mean the 2013 budget and levy would not be balanced. Moreover, Fogarty chastised council members for not voicing concerns with the wage increase proposal during the previous week’s budget workshop.
“Here we are on the last night to change the budget, and this changes the budget,” Fogarty said. “We just changed the budget in the last two weeks. I think what some people took as me being upset was more shock and awe at the changes that are coming out. The most important decision of the year, the most important vote we take every year. Changing on a dime is a little head-spinning for me.… I don’t know why we didn’t talk about this.”
Rather than remove the $10,000 from the budget, council members asked city administrator David McKnight to move the money into the city’s reserve funds. That way, council members will be able to look at the wage scale more closely in 2013, and possibly approve the raises after the new year. Doing so does not change the budget total, but only reallocates where the funds are placed.
Final words for 2012
Before the end of the meeting, Larson took a few minutes to share his thoughts about the budget process and the decisions made in recent weeks. Larson gave credit to McKnight and city staff for all of the work they have done on this year’s budget, but then shared some concerns about the future.
“Farmington does have high taxes. In my opinion, it’s not because we have too many people working for the city of Farmington. It is, in my opinion, because of the debt that we have. This year’s levy was $2.7 million in debt payments, and when I talk about debt payments, I’m talking about a new fire department, a new police department, a new central maintenance facility, and this new city hall. This is what all growing communities struggle with. As they grow, they need bigger police departments and another fire department … those type of things. It’s just part of the growing pains we’re going through,” Larson said.
“I worry about us cutting employees until we get to the point of diminishing returns. That’s not at all what I want. I don’t want to worry about us not being efficient in the work place,” he said. “That’s part of the balancing act for this council … to one, look out for the taxpayer, and two, to actually look out for the financial well-being of the city itself. Sometimes that includes raising the levy.”
Larson tempered his concerns by noting he does not support large raises to the levy, but he encouraged council to keep in mind that costs for things like natural gas or insurance premiums increase annually. Larson hopes the council will keep that in mind in the future.
“I think to keep a healthy city, we need to increase with that. I’m not talking about a 4, 5 percent increase. I’m talking little increases just to stay with life, and the consumer price index,” Larson said. “That’s something I worry about. The financial health of the city.”