A handful of additional police officers, department reorganizations and additional investment in communications and community development – all while accounting for shifting revenue sources – are among the highlights of Independence's proposed fiscal year 2018-19 budget.
The total proposed budget of $322,045,686 is an increase of $3,919,113 (1.2 percent) from this year’s adopted budget, with general fund expenditures of about $76.6 million, a 0.1 percent decrease.
City Manager Zach Walker said his staff began working on the budget last September, recognizing the need – without growing revenues – to realign dollars away from legacy programs and redundant services. The planned changes with the various health department functions – moving many to other departments – is the biggest example. Another proposed change is to have Assistant City Manager Mark Randall serve as director of public utilities, overseeing the three utilities while the water and water pollution control directors and IPL deputy director remain.
“We're reorganizing the budget around priorities,” Walker said before unveiling the budget Monday to the City Council. “We've got the money; we're just not spending it on the right things.”
With the Police Department, Walker plans to allocate more than $340,000 to add five officers, allowing police to create a street crimes unit to focus on top offenders and high crime-and-complaint areas as well as convert a latent print technician to police sergeant, add a full-time police records technician ($52,600) to address the eight-month backlog of warrant entries, add a detention supervisor ($56,000) and increase the detention housing budget by $35,000.
“We've got to re-invest in public safety,” Walker said. “We must provide the certainty that this is a safe city.”
Among the other budget recommendations of note:
• No increases in health-care premiums for a fourth-straight year.
• The fire department, under new chief Doug Short, looks to eliminate a deputy chief position (not replacing Short), add an administrative assistant, reclassify two battalion chiefs as assistant chiefs and add three fire captain/training officers that would help reduce overtime costs. The city anticipates a net savings of $50,000.
“They want to be the best-trained that they can be,” Walker said.
• About $95,000 total for employee training, including customer service, increased contribution for rate-payer assistance and customer relations management software.
Walker said he wants citizens to be able to pull out their phone, document their problem or request to the city and then be able to track their request through City Hall.
• About $127,000 to add a position for multimedia communication coordinator, enhanced video production and communication technology upgrades.
“It's about being able to tell our stories,” Walker said, adding that to so well, “We can't be a dinosaur anymore.”
• About $1.3 million in savings by budgeting a series of various department expenses to match their historical spending. (For example: $50 for paper clips instead of allocating $100 every year and spending half of it.)
• Eliminating six-plus vacant positions among the three utilities.
• $141,560 for programming, operating and maintaining the Uptown Market building scheduled for completion this summer.
“This thing's going to be a jewel, but we have to maintain it,” Walker said.
• $250,000 to fix the area of Truman Road and Harris Avenue, where erosion has compromised a private building and immediately removing the building could severely damage Truman Road. The allocation represents about half the projected cost, and Walker said the city is discussing the issue with the Missouri Department of Transportation (Truman Road is Missouri 12).
• Increasing the dangerous building demolitions budget in the general fund by $8,000 to $200,000, to go with about $195,000 in CDBG funds for this purpose.
• $220,000 in CDBG funds for sidewalk improvements along College Avenue.
A public hearing for the budget will take place during the May 21 council meeting, and budget town hall for the community will take place at 6 p.m. May 31 in the Presidential Hall of the Truman Memorial Building.