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Citys proposed 2016-2017 budget will be voted on in June
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City’s proposed 2016-2017 budget will be voted on in June

By Sandra Brands

It took four meetings for the Covington City Council to review, revise and discuss the proposed 2017 fiscal year budget, and on Tuesday night it came to consensus on items that needed to be added to or revised in the final budget.

City Manager Leigh Anne Knight had told the council and mayor there was a difference of $517,571 between the amount of anticipated revenues, $134,626,101, and proposed expenditures, $134,090,400. Items considered included adding up to five additional police officers and vehicles; staff additions in court services, the fire, electric and gas departments; and purchasing additional vehicles for different departments.

Two scenarios offered for contingency

Knight offered two possible scenarios the council could use as a starting place about how much, if any, of the $517,571 balance should be used. Both scenarios included budgeting $10,000 for the Community Improvement District (CID) along the Highway 278 corridor, and entering a $75,000 lease/purchase program for five vehicles of the police department.

Knight said she and Finance Manager Randy Smith had looked at the lease/purchase program as a way to add five vehicles to the police force annually. In the first year, the city would pay $75,000 for the first five cars. In the second year, another five cars would be added at an additional $75,000. Because the city would still be paying on the first set of five cars, the total that year for the lease/purchase agreement would be $150,000. The third year, another five cars would be put in service, and the total for the 15 cars would be $225,000. At the end of three years, the city would own, outright, the original five cars leased.

“We’d like to make that a continual process,” Knight said. “Basically every year, they [the police] would get five fresh vehicles.”

Also included in the first scenario would be adding a vehicle for $24,000 to the GIS/Engineering department and another for planning and zoning. No additional staffing would be included in the 2016-2017 fiscal year budget.

In scenario two, the city would hire a new police officer at a cost of $66,047 including benefits; an electric apprentice line worker at $67,654 including benefits; and a shared, temporary employee for court services and police administration at a cost of $42,000.

The consensus of the council was to accept most of scenario two’s recommendations, though they made some changes.

Council makes changes

In the preliminary budget, Knight had included in the fire department’s budget $140,000 to purchase four four-fold doors, replacing the existing roll-up doors, at the Emory Street Fire Station. The council opted to reduce that amount to $70,000, letting Chief Stoney Bowles decide whether to replace all four doors this year with roll up doors, or replace two of the four with four-fold doors. The fire department could request $70,000 next year to cover the cost of two additional four-fold doors.

The council also chose to add back into the budget the cost of purchasing a vehicle for the planning and zoning department at a cost of $24,000.

That left a contingency fund of $302,870 in this year’s budget.

A revenue transfer from the cable fund reserves of $1.5 million had been included in the preliminary budget, with the money earmarked for building a new city hall building. Council Member Chris Smith, Post 1 East, said he would not support a budget with the $1.5 million building project.

At last year’s fall retreat, council members and staff had talked about building a new administration building near the current city hall building. The new, two-story building would house the council meeting room, the city clerk’s, mayor’s, city manager’s and public relations office, Knight said. It would also probably house human resources and I.T. The new building, she said, would be two stories, plus a basement, though the second floor would be a shell to be finished at a later date.

The current city hall building would be used for planning and zoning, engineering, customer service and the electric department offices. The planning and zoning building would become the offices of court services and the city’s courtroom.

“In some of my travels around, the city hall [can be] a source of pride,” Johnston said. Covington’s city hall is “kind of an embarrassment. With this plan, I think the area, especially Emory Street, would be revitalized. I think it’s important to have a city hall that’s a reflection of who we are.”

While other council members agreed with the mayor’s assessment, Council Member Chris Smith, Post 1 East, said he would not be able to support the preliminary budget if the $1.5 million city hall building project was included.

“I think it would be better to have everyone in one area,” he said. “If we’re going to spend the money, let’s do it right. I’d rather spend twice the money rather than continue piecemeal.”

Knight suggested budgeting $25,000 to hire an architect to draw up proposals for a new or remodeled city hall “We’ll take out [of budget and revenues] the $1.5 million right now and come up with some new plans,” she said. “If they’re acceptable, we could put the [$1.5 million] back into the budget.”

The budget will be brought to the council for approval at its Monday, June 20 meeting.