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Negaunee council addresses 2012 budget deficit

October 13, 2011
By JOHANNA BOYLE ( , Journal Ishpeming Bureau

NEGAUNEE - Going from a nearly $1 million budget shortfall a month ago, Negaunee City Manager Jeff Thornton has proposed a balanced 2012 budget.

Thornton began presenting the budget to the Negaunee City Council at the city's first budget work session Thursday evening.

"This is the worst budget I've ever dealt with in my life," Thornton said. "Predecessors before had done some funky things with numbers that have proved to be near catastrophic in figuring out."

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Specifically, Thornton questioned the practice of lumping budget items together, making it difficult to separate out certain items from others.

The city's general fund revenues and expenditures both sit at $3.86 million. Revenues dropped from $4.1 million to $3.86 and expenditures dropped from $4.55 million to $3.86 million.

A large part of balancing the budget this year came from a $603,792 transfer from the city's electrical fund; a higher transfer was included in the department requests. Most of the transfer is dedicated to balancing the general fund, with $87,250 of that going to the city's cable fund. The city's electrical fund has been one of the city's funds that produces surplus revenues each year.

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The budget, along with a new city fiscal policy and the city's fee schedule, are scheduled for adoption at the council's November meeting.

To help the city's water fund and waste water fund, Thornton has also written two new items into the city's proposed fee schedule - a $2.50 charge for each of the funds that will be designated for capital improvements in the two systems.

The charge will show up on utility bills as two separate charges of $2.50 per meter per month and is expected to bring in $53,000 of additional revenue annually into each fund.

"Our water fund, our waste water fund are showing an increased revenue. Neither are showing a deficit," Thornton said. "We did not have to subsidize the water department or the waste water department."

The extra fees will give the city funds to help repair and maintain its water and waste water systems.

"We need to keep up our infrastructure," Thornton said.

The budget, which was originally put together with all department requests for funding, included not purchasing new equipment and vehicles requested by several departments, some of which have been put on an "extras" list that Thornton will revisit if additional funding becomes available.

In the city's police department, one position will be cut through an officer retiring in the coming weeks and not being replaced. To help fill those hours, Thornton said police Chief Jay Frusti will take some shifts in a patrol car. One third of the retiring officer's salary will be budgeted to the department's overtime line item to help provide for scheduling issues.

The police department budget also does include replacement raincoats.

In the fire department budget, Thornton did include new turnout gear for the firefighters. The safety gear was cut from the budget in two previous years, but was a necessity, Thornton said. Cut from that budget was a training site and dress uniforms for the department.

Smaller changes include dropping the city's monthly newsletter to a quarterly publication.

In addition, Thornton also suggested cutting a monthly $150 fee to Charter Communications to broadcast the regular city council meetings and using those funds to purchase a camera for the city to do its own broadcasting. The taped meetings could then be shown on the city's cable system and posted on the city's website, making them accessible to anyone who wanted to watch them.

Other fee schedule changes included increasing the fee for rental utility deposits, as the city has been struggling with short-term renters running up large utility bills and then leaving the area without payment.

The council also looked over some new utility policies, including a winter utility shutoff policy, a bill reprinting policy and a policy concerning utility payments given through checks for insufficient funds.

The council was not able to review the entire budget Thursday, but will take up the budget discussion again next week at its regular meeting, set for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Negaunee Senior Center.

Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.



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