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Budget talks scheduled: Ishpeming City Council to hold special meeting Monday

ISHPEMING — The Ishpeming City Council will hold a special meeting to discuss its 2021 budget at 2 p.m. Monday.

The budget process has posed more than the usual challenges this year, officials say. A projected reduction in state revenue has led to a proposed 6% across-the-board budget cut for every city department, Ishpeming City Manager Craig Cugini told the council during a Nov. 18 budget workshop.

A significant matter of contention since the budget was initially presented to the full council in October has been a projected elimination of public improvement funds for the Ishpeming Carnegie Public Library, the Ishpeming Police Department and the Ishpeming Volunteer Fire Department.

Under the proposed budget, the public improvement funds would be shifted to road improvements.

The budget process differed from those of years past, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a shift to new accounting software and an abbreviated timeline in which to complete it, officials said.

Rather than the council meeting multiple times to discuss the budget for each department, council members agreed to have councilors Lindsay Bean and Pat Scanlon complete the process with the city manager.

Outgoing Ishpeming Mayor Mike Tonkin, along with councilors Jason Chapman and Stuart Skauge, voiced concerns both about the proposed cuts to the library and the process as a whole.

“We as a council and we as a city are caretakers of that library. I don’t believe we should be pulling too much money off of that library. I feel like we need to honor what has been done and take a look at that. I also don’t like seeing no budgeted dollars from the public improvement fund (for) the police department,” Chapman said. “I won’t vote to approve this budget until I see some more work being done on it.”

However, Cugini said that going forward, public improvement funding will be geared toward specific projects, and in 2021 the project is road improvements, which the council had identified as a priority.

He also pointed out that the library’s primary funding sources originate in the city’s general fund, which is where the dollars should ultimately come from.

“It (the library) had a transaction line for purchasing circulation materials, but it was zeroed out. The reality is it was zeroed out from the public improvement fund, but there is a budget that comes in through the general fund for the library. And we were doing some rough-number math and our finance director has to work with some of this math and align it back to the general fund …. But there should be a budget sufficient to support the library in a reduced fiscal year.”

With the cuts, the library is projected to have roughly $95,000 to spend on utilities, books and other expenses not related to staffing. The library’s total operating budget in 2021 is projected to be around $350,000, officials said. The 2020 budget for the library was about $389,000.

Cugini met with library director Jessica Shirtz, members of the ICPL advisory board and Ishpeming Fire Chief Jason Annala on Nov. 18 to provide clarification on budget items prior to that day’s special council meeting.

Bean said prior to determining whether the budget for any department is insufficient, certain questions have to be answered by that department.

“Can the library operate on the reduced budget? What does that look like in terms of operating on that reduced budget? And if the library can’t operate on that reduced budget — and I would say that buying new circulating materials constitutes not being able to operate. That’s a function of the library, having new materials to circulate,” Bean said. “So if Jessie (Shirtz) looks over the budget, and the (library) board looks over the budget and they say ‘We can’t do that with these numbers and these are the numbers we need,’ (then) present the numbers to Craig (Cugini) and we will go from there.”

Monday’s special meeting represents the last time the current council will deliberate on the 2021 budget prior to it being implemented.

The public can join the meeting on the web by visiting https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85155061225, or by phone by calling 1-646-558-8656 and entering the code 85155061225.

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

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