The Chadron City Council has approved a $15.4-million dollar budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 concluding a process that began with the proposed budget far out of balance and ended with spending 4% less than last year with some $170,000 going into reserves.
The city property tax request of a little over $1.1-million - with just over $1 million for the general fund and $38,000 for a public safety bond - has a total tax rate of 43.73-cents per hundred dollars of assessed value.
There were no significant changes to the budget from the second reading, primarily corrections of errors, but the accompanying ordinance setting city fees was amended to drop a proposed $5 participation fee for members of organizations using city recreation facilities such as ball diamonds and soccer fields.
City Manager Greg Yanker said a review of applicable laws and objections raised at second reading by youth soccer, softball, and swimming supporters had led to a decision to address any extra costs to the city from a program in a memorandum of understanding or contract with each organized group.
"We felt it appropriate to work with each of those to come up with a negotiated contract very similar to what we've done with the Chadron Sharks, the youth swim team," said Yanker. "What we were looking at is if there's certain services that the organization wants to have in addition to the general maintenance, we'd be looking at negotiating those prices and what administrative costs would be."
Jennifer Wallege of Chadron Youth Soccer had questions about the proposal including how each contract or MOU would be negotiated, asking "so that means there will be future city council meetings at which you'll be determining what sports pay different fees to use the space."
Wallege had complained at the last council meeting that the city was asking for an additional fee when her group was already doing most of the work to get the soccer fields ready for matches, and she honed in on the point again Monday night.
"Soccer has to paint their own lines, so maybe a sport that doesn't have to paint lines would pay a different fee than those of us who are forking over all the money to get the equipment to do so? I'm just trying to get a full picture - it seems like you're saying if we paint the lines, meaning the city, then there'll be a fee associated for having done that work for us?"
Citizen Betty Sanchez, council member Cheryl Welch, and Andy Gooder of Chadron Youth Baseball all questioned whether the result might be the equivalent of more than a $5 per participant cost to the groups.
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Yanker said he didn't expect the cost to be greater than $5 for any organization and repeatedly emphasized that since the needs of each group are different, individual negotiations with each would be needed to reach a final agreement.
Because of the time potentially needed to do that, Yanker said some contracts or MOUs might not take effect for a year.
"It's not going to be that we're going to rush and have everything completed by Oct. 1 for everyone. We understand that there are going to be organizations that have already started or will be starting, in which case we'd be keyed into the next season."
The last discussion of the new budget came from councilman Mark Werner, who wanted to explore ways to increase funding for the fire department sinking fund for a new crash truck. Werner suggested an additional $37,500 could come from either reserves or from the Pool Bond Payment Fund created by donations for the Aquatics and Wellness Center.
Vice Mayor Keith Crofutt strongly opposed either approach, saying it would be "stealing from the future" to only partially fund a new crash truck.
The city council Monday night also approved the salary schedule for city employees. All full-time workers who have not reached the maximum pay step are getting a 60-cent an hour increase in base pay with part-time employees receiving a 30-cent hike. Employees at the maximum pay step will get a raise determined in part by longevity not to exceed 1%.
The schedule does not include certificated members of the police department, who have a separate union contract that has been at an impasse for months and is still be adjudicated by the Nebraska Commission of Industrial Relations or CIR.
Chadron also has 31 positions that fall under state comparability rules, 22 of which do not meet the minimum comparability set by the CIR. Yanker says the city must continue to take a serious look at how to address those issues while maintaining a strong fiscal position.