Independence takes advantage of federal aid

By Mike Genet
The Examiner

The Independence City Council approved a budget of $336.82 million for the 2021-22 fiscal year Monday, including several million dollars of one-time expenditures using American Rescue Plan stimulus funds. 

The total dollar figure is about $22.8 million, or 7 percent, greater than the 2020-21 budget, and includes money for a limited reopening of the National Frontier Trails Museum, and it further funds the reinstalled Health Department. Increases in salaries and benefits, retiree health insurance, capital improvement projects, and operating expenditures generally account for the larger budget. 

The budget, which takes effect July 1, includes $78 million for the general fund, which covers many municipal services outside of utilities – about 5 percent greater than 2020-21 and including nearly $8 million of American Rescue Plan funds.  

The Health and Animal Services Department had been slated for more than $2.7 million, including animal services and shelter operations. An amendment proposed by Council Member Karen DeLuccie added $300,000 in ARP funds 

“This would allow us time to rebuild the health department,” DeLuccie said, adding that she acknowledges concerns about how to use one-time money, “this is a gift from the federal government,” and the Health Department is too important to short-change as the city tries to rebuild it. 

The additional $300,000 for start-up costs from ARP funds will be over the course of two years, on top of the same amount previously slated for the Health Department. 

Mayor Eileen Weir initially asked to postpone the amendment, as she wanted to clear up how the additional $300,000 would be spent. She withdrew that request after City Manager Zach Walker said the budget’s specific allocations could be adjusted later without affecting the dollar amount. 

Weir said she wants to avoid making cuts in the near future because one-time monies can’t be replaced, and she and council members John Perkins and Dan Hobart cautioned against putting together a Health Department too similar to what the city had earlier. 

DeLuccie’s proposed plan to reopen theTrails Museum a few days a week, start paying back a parks fund loan to tourism and make some additional improvements at tourism sites costs about $500,000. It will be covered in large part by dipping into tourism reserve funds, and DeLuccie said that fund will still be healthy.  

Besides the Health Department, ARP dollars have been allocated for paying off the parks loan from the Water Department for the Uptown Market building ($2,134,500), helping with employee health-care costs ($2,350,000) and bus service ($50,000) and replacing lost sales tax and tourism tax funds from 2020-21 due to the pandemic ($3,272,000). 

Additional one-time expenses could be approved over the following months, as the city has received its first portion of ARP funds from the federal government – more than $10 million.