Independence’s biggest budget issue for the next fiscal year – bus service within the city – has been resolved thanks to $1.6 million in CARES Act money secured last week through the Kansas City Area Transit Authority.
Some council members offered several reductions before they approve the budget later this month, though only one cut received enough support.
A council majority voted in closed session last week to eliminate the management analyst position, and Mayor Eileen Weir said later the council has been looking to recast the position with less expense. The council voted Monday to allocate $90,000 for the position rather than the proposed $50,000 to contract the service out.
The position is required under the City Charter, though the analyst works at the council’s discretion. Two years ago the position was funded at $90,000 from the general fund. Last year it was $50,000, with the rest covered from the Power & Light fund because the analyst’s work centered mostly around IPL matters. Mark Thoma-Perry had the position of late, and now it will be posted for a new hire.
The management analyst’s duties include “continuous investigation of the works of all department of the city,” according to the charter. That person looks for ways to improve efficiency, cost and effectiveness in city operations.
Weir said the position has been a point of council of discussion for a couple years.
“I wouldn’t recommend to hire at top dollar, but I don’t think contracting it out satisfies the charter,” Weir said. “The council comes up with the work list for the management analyst.”
Council Member Karen DeLuccie offered several cuts, citing the uncertain revenue outlook for the near future, but only received support from outgoing Council Member Scott Roberson and at times one other council member. DeLuccie proposed cutting $125,000 from lobbying expenses (essentially eliminating one of two firms), the $42,000 in vehicle allowances for the mayor and council members, more than $16,000 as part of the law library budget, $27,000 in various memberships and $322,000 in travel and meeting expenses.
DeLuccie said with her proposed cut that she sought “to avoid expenses that are unnecessary.”
Roberson said the vehicle allowance cut represented a chance for the council to show some leadership, many conventions or large meetings have been or will be canceled in 2020 and the council can rely on its good relationship with local representatives in the General Assembly rather than keep two lobbying firms on the payroll as it has for a few years.
“It’s been an overkill, and we need to cut the budget anyways,” Roberson said.
Council Member Mike Huff, who also supported the lobbyist cut, said his qualm with cutting the vehicle allowances was that two or three new council members who join later this month wouldn’t have the chance to vote on something dealing directly with them.
City Manager Zach Walker said the money that would remain for travel expenses would cover essential meetings. Weir said she was reluctant to remove dollars for active employees to use for training, as it’s easier to cut funds later rather than cut now and try to reinstate them later.
One cut offered by Council Member John Perkins did get approved: an assistant city counselor position at more than $98,000 about to be vacated.
Weir reminded the council that some budget decisions made Monday could well be changed over the course of the fiscal year, given the revenue uncertainty caused by the pandemic. She recommended the council’s audit and finance committee maintain monthly updates with the budget.
“It’s always a two-step process: budgeting and allocating,” she said. “Some of the decisions we made today will certainly need to be monitored.”