City adopts 2020-2021 budget, user fee ordinance update

The Three Rivers City Commission passed a resolution to adopt its proposed 2020-2021 Fiscal Year budget at its regular meeting Tuesday, as well as a user fee ordinance update, following two prior public hearings.

According to the budget document posted on the City of Three Rivers website and last modified on June 26, the total budget calls for $20,755,003 in revenues and $21,244,180 in expenditures, leaving a deficit of $489,177. This deficit, plus drawdowns from various designated funds for things like the Downtown Development Authority and ambulance, sewer, and water service, brings the fund balance down from $31,930,173 at the start of the year to $12,203,936 at year’s end.

Another document posted on the City website, also dated May 26 and titled “2021 Proposed Budget Presentation Handouts,” shows an identical revenue figure to the main budget document but an expenditures figure of $22,246,270 and a deficit of $1,491,267. This may reflect figures prior to COVID-19 adjustments.

The commissioners did not discuss overall budget figures at Tuesday’s meeting, but did discuss the General Fund. That fund indicates a projected balanced budget with matching revenues and expenditures for the general fund at $4,885,798 each, according to the May 13 document and attachments to Tuesday’s meeting agenda. This figure represents an 8.27 percent reduction in spending since the 2019-20 fiscal year, and a 1.45 percent reduction in revenues. 

Speaking of the General Fund figures, Mayor Tom Lowry said, “We tried to anticipate the fact there might be less sales tax because we might be going into a light recession. The state has already signaled that at least two of the four statutory funds will be reduced, so they’re already telling all the cities and villages that there will be less money coming back to us next year, so we created a budget anticipating that. However, we don’t think it will go down much over $100,000 at the moment, on a $4.4 million (General Fund) budget, so I think we are being realistic.”

There will also be pandemic-related impacts on staff. Although most employees will still see their usual, annual 2 percent pay increase, there will be a partial furlough during July that continues a reduction in hours that is currently in place. In addition, two clerical/administrative positions will be reduced from full-time to part-time, and one such position will be eliminated entirely. 

“We’re eliminating one clerk position, and that person is going over to finance. We’ve reduced benefits on those two part-time clerk positions in order to save some money,” Lowry said. “This year, once again, we are presented with a budget that’s very realistic and very acceptable. We changed it very little, and I want to thank staff and employees for all of the work that they did for all of those months.” 

Commissioner Clayton Lyczynski said he appreciates “the fiscal responsibility of the city and the budgeting that’s already in place so that when something unexpected happens, we’re not immediately cutting huge chunks of our budget, but we are able to still move forward. I’m really encouraged, and I think anybody who looks at our budget situation based on the current climate should be pretty pleased with how the city’s been able to handle it as well.”

Regarding the user fee ordinance update, Lowry noted there were “very few changes, with no water and sewer rate increase” in order to alleviate pandemic impacts on users. 

“However, we have increased the ambulance service fees, and they’ve gone up by roughly the CPI medical rate of inflation, which is roughly 3 percent this year,” Lowry said, “and then there’s just a few little things in the wastewater, and that’s about it. Otherwise it’s basically the same.” 

In comparing the fee schedule for the end of FY 2019-20 posted on the city website with the new one that passed Tuesday, Watershed Voice was able to verify the changes to the Ambulance Service fees, and confirm that most others are the same, with the exception of some increases for Airport Services as well.

COMMISSION APPROVES CONTRACTS, PURCHASE ORDERS

•The commission voted to award a two-year contract for tree removal services to JC & Sons of Decatur after also considering a bid from a Three Rivers company. Commissioner Chris Abel furnished the sole nay vote for the measure, indicating preference for hiring a local company. 

Department of Public Services (DPS) Director Amy Roth estimated the local company, Hefner, had been in business for about 40 years, but that it was in the midst of a transition to new ownership. She noted DPS has worked with JC & Sons since around 2011 and has been happy with their work. Their bid was lowest, but Hefner’s was low enough to be within the 10 percent allowance over the lowest to remain under consideration. 

Lowry and Lyczinski, as well as Commissioners Daryl Griffith and Pat Dane, said they would prefer to award the contract to JC & Sons, and consider Heffner again in the future once it became clear how the ownership change would play out. JC & Sons’ bid provides a price of $683.75 for tree removal, $206.25 for trimming, and $99 for stump removal. DPS’s total budget for services is $25,000. Roth plans for the removal of roughly 25 trees and another 10 stumps in the coming year.

•The commission also voted to authorize several purchase orders based on bids received by DPS staff. These included a contract and purchase order for drinking water chemicals from Water Solutions Unlimited in the amount of $26,585, as well as blanket purchase orders in the amount of $32,000 for diesel fuel from Drake’s Crystal Flash of Schoolcraft and $11,000 for Cold Patch road repair material from the Cass County Road Commission.

•Following a closed session conversation, the commission voted to approve a labor contract with the Clerical Unit and the Wastewater Treatment Plant Unit for unionized employees.

•In comments, Dane and several others noted good attendance at the new sports complex over the previous weekend. Lyczinski inquired about what recourse the city might have to make the intersection of North Main Street and US-131 safer, including low-cost lane striping measures. Roth said she would look into possible water pressure issues raised by Commissioners Clayton and Alison Haigh.

City Manager Joe Bippus confirmed that city hall would be open in limited fashion on June 17, and in a more expanded fashion likely starting on July 6. city Attorney J. Patrick O’Malley indicated that state officials are currently considering rules that would allow public meetings to occur in a combination of in-person and online environments.

Dave Vago is a writer and columnist for Watershed Voice. A Philadelphia native with roots in Three Rivers, Vago is a planning consultant to history and community development organizations and is the former Executive Director of the Three Rivers DDA/Main Street program.

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