BUDGET TALKS: City money for library expansion in limbo

BUDGET TALKS: City money for library expansion in limbo

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Pay increases for elected city leaders remains on the table in on-going budget talks Tuesday by the finance and administration committee, but the library project is on the fence.

The topics arose from specific examination of the fire department, library, city administration and cable TV budgets for the next year for Portage.

Here's a look at each topic discussed:

ELECTED LEADER PAYThe city's elected leaders are still considering the possibility of increasing their compensation, but a pay raise will not be included in the 2012 budget, the finance committee said Tuesday.

 

The idea, which was first broached in August, will likely not be decided until after the 2012 budget is passed. An increase in pay would not take effect for elected officials until the next election for their seat.

Compensation for Common Council members and the mayor has not been increased since 1992. Council members earn $3,600 a year, while the mayor earns $11,400 a year.

LIBRARY EXPANSIONThe proposed $1.5 million Portage Public Library expansion project remains in budgetary limbo as city leaders gauge whether they want and can support it in the 2012 budget.

 

The budget committee delayed a decision on funding for the project in order to look deeper into the numbers associated with the expansion, including the long-term costs and whether the current building needs improvements.

The Library Board has asked that the city to provide $400,000 in financing for the project, whichwould also be funded through grants and a public fundraising campaign. In order to contribute the city would have to borrow the money.

It is likely that the full Common Council will weigh-in on the issue what the committee decides or does not decide, given the gravity of the decision. The issue could also go to a referendum - something that Common Council member Daniel Brunt, the finance chairman, discussed Tuesday.

"I am not prepared to spend $400,000 of the taxpayers money without them having input into it, so I would request or support a referendum," Brunt said.

Council member Rick Dodd has also proposed the idea of using a referendum to make a decision on the funding. Using a referendum, however, would make it harder to plan and prioritize other items in the budget.

Council member Fred Reckling, who said he is still very much on the fence about the expansion funding, said the library was competing with other budgetary items like the proposed funding for a welcome center in Riverside Park.

"I'm leaning toward the library, but it's a very slight lean," Reckling said.

Reckling said that he supports the project if the numbers are feasible for the city, but that it would be a "delicate balancing act," in determining where the city's biggest priorities fall.

If the library project does not go forward next year it is possible that several hundred thousand dollars in grant funding for the project would disappear, according to library officials.

 COUNCIL GOING DIGITALThe finance committee gave the initial OK to include funding for wireless internet and dedicated laptops or tablet computers for use by Council members in the 2012 budget.

 

Although a detailed estimate has not been formulated, it was suggested that the project could cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

If the idea gets the final OK, it would mean that Council members would have computers for Council business and would not receive bundles of paperwork for each meeting.

"I think we can save a lot of paper," Reckling said.

The Portage school board, which Reckling is also a member, has a similar program. As part of the effort, wireless internet would be installed at city hall.

There was some discussion about whether the wireless internet access would be restricted or not.

Funding for the digital conversion would come out of the revenues that the city collects from the local cable TV franchise fees.

BUDGETING CONTINUESThe 2012 budget process will continue tonight at city hall starting at 5:15 p.m. The finance committee is expected to specifically discuss Business Improvement District and Main Street budgets, as well as those for the water and sewer departments.

 

Tonight's meeting may be the last time the committee meets before a draft of the 2012 budget is presented to the full Common Council.

Final passage of the 2012 city budget is due by early December.

 

 

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