City sets budget

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

Iola commissioners fleshed out the final details Tuesday of the city’s 2010 spending plan, which will keep property taxes level for the upcoming year.
There were a few last-minute changes, dealing primarily with the Iola Police Department budget. As reported elsewhere in today’s Register, Allen County commissioners officially notified Iola City Administrator Judy Brigham that the county will take over 911 dispatching services on Jan. 1.
That meant the city will no longer split the costs of operating the system with the county, saving Iolans about $100,000.
Brigham explained that Iola and the county each paid $190,000 for dispatch services. Brigham planned to leave about $90,000 in the budget, “until we know exactly how the county will handle the dispatching,” she told the commissioners.
Brigham noted the city may need an employee to field non-emergency calls to the police department. It’s also not known whether Iola would need to retain a dispatcher to contact other agencies for such things as utility service calls.
“So we’ll get this worked out before Jan. 1?” Commissioner Bill Shirley asked Brigham.
“That’s what they tell me,” she replied.
Commissioners also queried Brigham on the city’s plans to delay the purchase of a new fire truck.
The truck, estimated at $550,00 would replace a backup 1976 model that no longer meets performance standards set by the Insurance Services Office (ISO). A city’s ISO rating establishes fire insurance premiums based on community fire-protection services.
It’s important to note, Brigham said, that despite the units failing ISO grade, it does not change the city’s overall ISO rating. What’s more, because the truck is a backup vehicle, it is rarely used. Still, commissioners wondered if delaying the purchase until 2010 or 2011 was wise because of the steadily increasing costs for such equipment.
Street and Alley Superintendent Dan Leslie noted the price of “heavy iron” equipment such as fire trucks can escalate as much as 10 percent a year.
“I’m for spending less,” Commissioner Craig Abbott said, “but I’m also for spending money wisely.”
Brigham responded that purchasing the truck now instead of setting aside $100,000 would mean drawing more money from Iola’s electric department reserves.
“We’re doing everything we can to keep those transfers low,” Brigham said, reflecting comments Abbott made at a commission meeting July 28 at which he implored Brigham to limit transfers.
As it is, the city will transfer $825,000 from its electric reserves to the general fund in 2010, in part to keep the mill levy stable. Iola’s ad valorem tax levy will remain at about 37 mills for the fifth year in a row.
Abbott and Shirley also wondered if the city should take a look at its electric rates to determine if they could be pared as well. Abbott cited Iola’s sluggish economy, including a number of laid off citizens and those with fixed incomes.
“There are an awful lot of people who are having a tougher time because of high utility rates than they would be with a higher property tax levy,” Abbott said.
Commissioners also noted they would decide around September whether the city will continue to set its cost-of-living pay raises with the Social Security Index. The index saw an increase of more than 5 percent this year.
Early estimates are that the index will rise 2 percent for 2010, Shirley said, “and it looks like 2 percent may be as much as we can give.”
Commissioners set an Aug. 25 budget hearing for taxpayers to sound off on the city’s $25 million spending plan.