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City council approves 2020-21 budget

City council approves 2020-21 budget

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During their regular meeting on Sept. 8, Chadron City Council officially approved its budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year. The process leading up to final approval of the budget involved approval of several resolutions.

The budget comes in at $16,271,118 including the $6,837,564 ending cash balance from the previous year and the $10,799,757 requested for fiscal year 2020-21, and starts at the end of the month.

Following a public hearing, during which there was no comment, the budget was approved and set. Staff were praised for all of the work put into the budget, and Mayor Miles Bannan noted the long and involved process was “less miserable than it has ever been for me.” The mayor further added the process is long and involved, and he’s happy to see the end of it.

First was the fee ordinance, which sets fees for airport, ambulance, animal control, aquatic center, building services, cemetery, Dial a Truck, election, library, licenses, occupation fees, planning services, police services, mobile home annual permits, sewer, water and other miscellaneous fees.

Prior to approving the ordinance, a motion was approved 3-2, with Bannan and Vice Mayor Keith Crofutt voting “no,” to strike a line that stated the consumption fee would increase by 10% each year until 2024-25, unless changed by council and the fee ordinance process.

A resolution to establish funds for the fiscal year was approved. This includes the general, reserve and capital projects funds, as well as funds for ambulance, public safety and various infrastructure. As part of the resolution, any revenues by the city must be applied to the set out funds.

A resolution to approve an additional 1% increase in the city restricted funds authority was approved. Bannan said this sets how much the city can spend in its restricted funds. Though limited to 2.5%, the resolution allows for up to 3.5%; the lid can increase next year as well. It was pointed out that this extra authority is not typically used.

Following a second public hearing, again with no comment, council approved the final tax levy and property tax for the fiscal year. The levy is 0.4225 per $100 of valuation, with .015233 for the public safety bond for new breathing apparatus for the Chadron Volunteer Fire Department. It was noted the levy was not changed at all, and the total property tax asking is $1,112,177 for the General Fund and $38,380 for the public safety bond.

In other action, council approved resolution 2020-71, providing a facility use agreement with Chadron Community Recreation for use of Roger Eaton Soccer Fields for the fall soccer teams.

Don King said Chadron Community Recreation is eager to enter into the agreement for several reasons, namely to be able to continue recreation in a safe and orderly manner for youth. Upon review of the agreement, King noted there are two specific changes requested. The first is to add a statement that the licensee — in this case Chadron Community Recreation — is not responsible for any actions, accidents or injuries, or legal ramifications as the result of field use by other parties at times not reflected in the Community Recreation schedule.

King said there are concerns Community Recreation would be held responsible if people are on the field outside of the times scheduled in the agreement.

The second requested change is that Chadron Recreation be responsible for operation and management of the fields only during games, practices and related activities. Both changes were approved prior to council’s approval of the agreement.

A second facility use agreement was approved to allow use of the Hampton Softball Field for high school girls’ softball.

In a 3-1-1 vote, with one “no” vote and one abstention, council approved an addendum to the inter-local cooperation agreement with Chadron State College for use of the Chadron Area Aquatics and Wellness Center.

Under the addendum, the agreement would run for a period of 10 years — from Oct. 1, 2020 to Sept. 20, 2030 — going four years beyond the previous expiration year of 2026. The reimbursement from the college would also be changed to be 50% of the net operating expense — operating expense minus center income.

Chadron State rental payments for the fall and spring semester, listed as the third Monday in August through the second Friday in May, would be $7,800 each in August and May and $15,600 for each month from September through April for a total $140,400 per year for 10 years. This is a decrease of $48,600 per year compared to the $189,000 CSC would be paying for each of the remaining six years under the current agreement. But, it would mean an additional four years of annual $140,400 rental payments for the school.

Council member Mark Werner, who voted “no” on the addendum, expressed concern that the agreement between the college and the city for use of the aquatic center, and that it could possibly lead to a loss of finances to the city and increased taxes. It was pointed out during the meeting, even by Werner himself, that the concern was based around assumptions to Chadron State’s income.

Council member Cheryl Welch further noted the voters, essentially, gave permission for council to pursue a 10-year bond, but halfway through they are “changing the deal.”

Crofutt, who abstained from voting, said he has spoken to constituents who were for the extension. He also noted he understood where Welch’s concern is coming from, but pointed out when people voted in the bond without full knowledge of what they were voting for.

“They voted it in with a promise of how many millions it would cover, and then the city spent many millions more.” Crofutt referred to the promise as a “bait and switch” and the voters were given something that cost a lot more than was first promised.

Bannan found himself agreeing and disagreeing with arguments presented, but added, “I’m proud of the aquatic center. I ran on this. This was important to me, I served on the finance committee. At no point to a feel we pulled a ‘bait and switch.’ I believe the people of Chadron voted for an aquatic center and they got an aquatic center.

“I think it’s something to be proud of. We have a nicer aquatic center than most colleges. I think it’s great and I use it a lot . . . It’s a tremendous asset for our community.”

Bannan further added it’s unknown what will happen in six years in regard to college finances, as well as leadership in the city and the school. The agreement at least provides some certainty, he said.

Also at the meeting, final payments were approved to Simon Contractors of South Dakota. Payments were for the high school parking lot project and road construction for the 100 block of West Eighth and the 200 block of West Ninth.

City Manager Greg Yanker provided an update on the city deer management plan that was initially approved by the council in January. Yanker and Police Chief Tim Lordino met with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and during that meeting the commission approved the plan to move forward with operations.

Going forward, local Game and Parks will be contacted to start the final implementation process and begin the deer culling process. Yanker expects the culling to begin in October. He noted the pandemic caused some delays in moving forward with the program.

The plan to cull the deer was approved at the council’s Jan. 20 meeting, as concerns grew about damage the animals were doing to property and risks of chronic wasting disease.

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