Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cat herding and budget building

The long, drawn-out budget approval process is in full swing at Waterloo City Hall. That includes work sessions over multiple weeks. The mayor lays out how much of a tax increase is required to preserve current service levels while council members declare the largest increase they will support. Mayor Buck Clark says the process is like "herding cats."  Two council members --- Harold Getty and Bob Greenwood --- have not yet attended the work sessions, but will reportedly be back at a session this week. At last week's session, Ron Welper was the only council member who was willing to sign on to a 7 percent property tax increase to preserve city services at existing levels, as advocated by Clark. Others were only interested smaller increases: 3 percent for David Jones, 4 percent for Quentin Hart and 5 percent for Carolyn Cole (who noted that the process is painful and "sucks"). Steve Schmitt also won't go above a 3 percent  increase, but was clear that he wouldn't touch public safety staffing to make the cuts under that scenario. Instead, he says, "lets start counting toilet paper rolls." There is a conundrum in cutting police positions. Two years ago, the council overrode a veto from then-Mayor Tim Hurley to accept a $350,000 federal grant to help pay for five police officers. But the city has to repay the grant if  it allows staffing levels to dip before three years are up. So, cutting those positions may not help the city financially.  Union wage concessions have also been discussed. Find the full range of cuts that have been considered here.  In the meantime, neighboring Cedar Falls passed its budget Monday with a smaller tax increase and no cuts. And they had no hand-wringing work sessions in advance and barely any discussion.

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