West Liberty City Council eyes new budget

Property, utility rates expected to increase for residents


Learning about a $13 million operating fund balance, the West Liberty City Council went department-by-department Tuesday, Feb. 2, in rolling through the city’s 2021-22 budget managed by city interim manager Elizabeth Hansen and city clerk Lee Geertz.

For more than an hour, Hansen and Geertz explained changes in the city’s new budget which was the subject of a public hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 16 to be followed by certification on March 2.

Hansen reported the city is in good shape financially, having a large surplus although noting most of that money is set aside for specific expenses while noting it takes a lot of money to simply operate. She also said it’s a big advantage for the city if the council desires to borrow money, getting a great bond rating.

She said those working on the budget, which included department heads, were asked to look at least three years ahead and noted the Capital Improvement Plan and Equipment Revolving Plan were both part of the process, something the city has not done in the past.

She said the bulk of the city’s income is from city property taxes, estimated at $840,355, the bulk of the income from commercial and industrial properties, while tax increment financing (TIF), user fees and fines (estimated at $7,000), Licenses and permits (estimated at $40,575), grants and donations (estimated at $69,648) and other incomes including transfers of $1.2 million plus.

The interim city manager pointed out the millage rate of 15.19601 would increase in local property taxes by about one percent to 16.02036, noting the city is going to have to continue a one percent annual increase over the next seven to 10 years to meet CIP needs. The rate was as low as 13.370558 in November of 2012.

Hansen said the goal of increasing that rate every year is to “create a long term, sustainable operating budget” and set to continue infrastructure improvements.

The budget includes expenses of $1,254,559 for public safety, $906,510 for culture and recreation, $229,736 for general government, $6,500 for public works and $1,09 million plus for transfers.

Hansen compared West Liberty’s expenses to other communities of the same size, noting the main difference is in culture and recreation at 37 percent of the budget while public safety was 36 percent.

Non-activity revenue sources will increase by over $1.3 million in the next year, climbing from $1,865,477 to $3,294,677 mainly because of additional revenues in TIF (about $400,000) and transfers (nearly $900,000).

The police department is expected to see revenues climb by $7,700 to $78,700 in obtaining $20,000 more in donations while expenses will increase $13,729 to $657,129 because of a $25,000 capital expense in a new police vehicle while the department is expected to save $10,271 in personnel services, benefits and development, budgeted at $563,529.

One of the biggest changes will come in the city’s building inspection and animal control department, which is presently a part-time position held by Terry Gertz. The city will make building inspections a full time position, throwing $91,500 at the department’s personnel, increasing expenses by nearly $67,000 on a total budget of $121,280. Revenue from that department is estimated at $65,000 for the new year.

In the street/solid waste department, the city won’t see much of a difference in revenues except for $420,000 in bonding proceeds for engineering work, anticipating expenses to rise by $383,105 with capital improvements.

The West Liberty Public Library, which has seen a number of personnel changes this past year, is anticipating revenue of $168,000, including getting an additional $80,000 this year from Local Option Sales Taxes through the General Fund and an increase of $4,000 in grants and donations to $70,000.

The library, under the direction of Allie Paarsmith, will see a $34,000 dive in personnel expenses to $254,985 due to the changes in employees, but will have a $63,000 capital gain expense that will put the library over last year’s budget of $358,010 by $17,215.

Parks and Recreation will also see an increase in revenue from Local Option Sales Taxes by $80,000 while budgeting a dip of $4,500 in permits, fines and fees, director Nick Heath watching revenues grow from $40,100 to $127,500. On the expense side, the department will see a $25,350 change in the personnel department to just less than $280,000 and an overall increase of $18,250 to $548,500 due largely to a $57,000 capital improvement increase to $97,000, largely for improvements to Friendship Park.

Administration at city hall will see a drop in revenue sources by over $12,000 largely due to an $18,000 dip in the tort liability levy while expenses will increase by $135,186 to $229,736 mainly due to $130,000 in capital improvement expenses for the city hall.

Water rates will be going up for residents, the department showing an increase overall in revenue of nearly $200,000 to $985,00, all of that coming in charges for services.

Expenses in the water department will increase by $25,977 to $918,367 despite working with one less person in the department, a drop in the budget of $54,000 to $184,900 while the department anticipates spending $26,000 more in repairs and maintenance, $31,200 more in contractual services and $27,100 more in operational supplies as Well #2 goes back into production.

In the wastewater department, the city will have revenue of $2,614,000, an increase of nearly $60,000 – all coming in charges for services, a slight increase in rates for city residents. The department will take a $155,650 hit in personnel changes this year to jut less than $594,000 while seeing a decrease in capital expenses by $553,000 to $321,000. It amounts to a $703,971 budget savings in the department to $1.924 million from $2.628 million.

At the electric department, charges for service are expected to drop, the department seeing a fall from $5,469,700 to $5,185,200 while expenses will take a $427,470 cut from a year ago when the budget listed $5.41 million. A total of $160,250 in savings will come in personnel for the three man department while the group anticipates $105,500 in repair and maintenance savings as well as $294,000 in capital improvement savings, listed at $529,000 a year ago.

Garbage & recycling rates will also have a slight increase for residents, revenues in charges for services climbing by nearly $16,000 from $498,550 to $514,350, fees and interest amounting to a $400 drop to put the total revenue for the department at $515,050. On the expense side, the city will spend $513,900 providing those services, down $5,650 from a year ago largely thanks to $10,000 savings in both the capital and operational supplies areas.

Although the city council has not yet voted to approve a number of the utility rate hikes, they were highly recommended by Hansen. She said the rates would help the city plan for improvements down the road in each department and create a “balanced budget.”

In other business, the council approved waiving late fees for Simpson Memorial Home and Heath Manor totaling just over $600, explained in a letter to the city from Director Cliff McFerren. Council member Kara McFerren abstained from the vote to approve the adjustment.

City engineer Leo Foley also gave a report on the remodeling of city hall, noting bids have been published and received from two different contactors including Bi-State of the Quad-Cities and a Burlington firm. He expects the bids to be ready for council approval in the very near future.

Foley also reported more progress on the city’s Well #2 relaunching and noted “excellent results” from wastewater testing in the past six months, pointing out “we now have a full year of very good reports.”

Due to the fact the meeting had run just over two hours, the council decided not to talk about a number of issues on the agenda including a discussion on the communication plan, social media policy and computer based system policies put together by Heath, the new communications director. A discussion on amending the disaster recovery plan and electronic communication policy was also tabled as well as a discussion on a pay for performance evaluation form, salary range and matrix for management and non-management employees of the city.

All department and management reports were also shuffled off the agenda due to time restraints, the mayor pointing out the council had reports in their meeting packet.

The city proceeded the budget discussion with a lengthy conversation on adopting a new ATV, UTV, golf cart ordinance before it finally was sent by back committee for further discussion, An article on that discussion appeared in last week’s Index.