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Books or streets

Ishpeming 2021 budget raises public concern

Librarian Kelsey Boldt checks a book out to patron Lindsey Emanuelson at the Ishpeming Carnegie Library in a pre-pandemic photo. (Journal file photo)

ISHPEMING — The Ishpeming City Council will continue discussions later this month on its proposed 2021 budget after area residents and city employees expressed concerns about the proposed transfer of 2021 public improvement funds that are not debt committed to the local street fund.

Several current and past residents weighed in about the issue at a public hearing on the budget during Wednesday’s meeting.

The chief concern was a proposed shift of about $300,000 from the city’s public improvement fund to its local street fund for street paving, leaving the Carnegie Public Library without the funds to purchase new books in 2021.

Area residents who spoke during the meeting referred to the library as a “foundational institution” in the community, with many commenters praising the staff, and all protesting the potential loss of funding for new library materials.

Ishpeming resident and library board member Brook Clancey Routhier said the library budget, as well as how and where to cut it, should be left to the library director.

“We have a library director who is qualified, goes to college and is trained to understand library workings and to make those difficult decisions. I will work with the library director to meet any budget cut that is laid out,” Routhier said. “The city is specifically eliminating the line item allowed to purchase books. So I want to make sure that the city council understands that the budget, as laid out, does not allow the library director to make cuts based on a budget number reduction, but it specifically eliminated the line item for purchase of the material (that) a library is for.”

All other public improvement fund spending, “will be placed on hold until the 2022 fiscal year,” according to Ishpeming City Manager Craig Cugini’s 2021 budget message.

The major revenue source for the fund is a 4.7 mill public improvement millage, which is projected to garner $524,405 for 2021, according to the manager’s budget message. It has committed debt payments of $223,654, leaving $300,751 of the funds available for use in 2021.

The remaining funds will be transferred into the Local Street Fund to commit a total of $400,000 toward new street paving projects in 2021, he said.

In his message, Cugini notes that despite the USDA water project, which resulted in a significant improvement in some city streets, a drastic increase in winter street maintenance costs due to increased snowfall.

“The 2021 budget anticipates another year of high snowfall, but our intent is to try to reduce overtime costs and reduce overall winter maintenance costs,” the budget message states. “State of Michigan action to increase funding a couple years ago, while a positive step, did not fully correct the state-wide shortage in road funding.”

Cugini said even with the state’s positive step to increase Act 51 appropriations funding, the city is unable to keep up with basic maintenance expenses, purchase equipment and supplies and “apply the appropriate repairs to maintain deteriorating streets.”

In addition to the library, public improvement fund spending has historically included equipment and facilities upgrades for the city’s police, fire and public works departments, as well as Al Quaal Recreation Area.

During the meeting, library director Jessica Shirtz and Ishpeming Fire Chief Jason Annala agreed to meet with two members of the council and the city manager to discuss the funding changes before a special city council meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Councilman Pat Scanlon, one of the council members who worked with Cugini on the budget, said it is important that the departments impacted by the budget changes understand the process.

“It wasn’t a matter of just saying ‘Well, cut the library.’ I have been around a long time on council, and I know the passion that’s there. I completely understand it,” Scanlon said. “Just because there is no public improvement fund (projected for 2021) doesn’t mean that the year is going to end that way. It just means that the Ishpeming Police Department has zero in their public improvement fund, just as the library does — the fire department as well. We have a system that is going to make it better for the council and better for the manager to manage the budget and do it very, very constructively.”

Cugini, in his 2021 budget message, said the proposed spending “reflects the many challenges affecting the city.”

The general fund balance in 2020 was expected to drop by $143,085 at the beginning of the year, but management is expecting to end 2020 with a $111,048 reduction in the fund. The city’s total general fund balance is projected to be $786,702 at the end of 2020.

A projected drop in state revenue sharing in 2021 has led to tough choices to sustain the city’s financial position, he said.

“The city’s revenue has failed to keep up with continuously and significantly increasing fixed and unavoidable costs,” Cugini said. “This is compounded by further reductions in estimated revenues plus unexpected increases in costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.

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