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Several Amendments Made Before Council Came To A Final Agreement

The Jamestown City Council approves the 2021 budget after passing 16 amendments to the proposed spending plan. The budget included no tax rate increase. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

The Jamestown City Council made numerous changes to the proposed 2021 spending plan before approving next year’s budget.

On Monday, the council approved 16 amendments before passing a 2021 budget that includes no tax increase. The most significant of the amendments was to make no changes to health insurance coverage for Medicare-eligible retirees. Earlier this month, Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist and the council publicly discussed the change that was proposed to save the city $1.1 million in health care costs.

Sundquist said city retirees over the age of 65 would have the same medical, vision and dental coverage, with some additional coverage the city’s plan currently doesn’t offer. He said the only aspect that will be different is the personal insurance card would no longer have the city of Jamestown logo, but would have the United Health Care logo.

Last week, Kim Ecklund, At-Large councilwoman and Finance Committee chairwoman; Marie Carrubba, Ward 4; Tom Nelson, Ward 6; Tamu Graham-Reinhardt, At-Large; Jeff Russell, At-Large; and Anthony Dolce, Ward 2 councilman and president; said they don’t think the proposal should remain in the budget, with one reason being that the change was not negotiated with the city’s six collective bargaining units.

Grant Olson, Ward 5, was the only “no” vote on the amendment to remove the proposed change from the 2021 fiscal plan.

Another amendment to the proposed budget was to not increase parking meter cost or fines, which means the two-hour free parking spaces will remain as well. The proposal to double the cost to park at a meter was budgeted to generate $29,045 in additional revenues. After two months of discussion on the subject, however, the council’s consensus was this is not the right time to increase costs and to possibly negatively impact how many people visit downtown businesses during the week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Nelson and Russell both voted against the amendment removing the increase in parking ticket fines. Last week, Russell said he agrees with no parking meter cost increase, but has no problem if the ticket fine increases because that is based on someone not being responsible.

One amendment eliminated a current position in city government — recreation coordinator. The change will save the city $53,973 annual in salary and benefits. The only council member to vote against the amendment was Brent Sheldon, Ward 1 councilman.

Later in the meeting, Vickye James, Ward 3 councilwoman, said she understands what it’s like for the council to eliminate her position with the city because — before being a member of the council — her job as youth director was cut in the 2014 budget.

“You hate to see any casualties,” James said.

Carrubba said “it’s never easy when dealing with personnel issues” during the budget process.

The council also approved an amendment to use $436,139 in the unreserved fund balance to balance the 2021 spending plan. Last week, Ryan Thompson, city comptroller, said the city at the end of 2019 had an unreserved fund balance of $3.9 million.

One amendment that was proposed was not passed by the council. There was a proposal to eliminate the lease of a car for the mayor for $2,600. Prior to the vote, Olson said if the lease is already signed there will be penalties and fees for breaking the lease early. Olson, Nelson, Sheldon, Russell and Graham-Reinhardt all voted against the proposal.

Other amendments approved included removing $200,000 from the contingency account; adding $200,000 in estimated sales tax revenues; not filling a new communications grant position, which saved the city $58,448; and removing the purchase of a projector and TV for the mayor’s conference room, a savings of $2,100;

After the amendments were made, all nine members of the council approved the budget.

Ecklund said there is a lot of concerns about the approved budget because of unknowns like the COVID-19 pandemic, sales tax revenues and the cost of health insurance.

“There were some tough decisions in this budget for all of us,” she said. “This was probably one of the hardest budgets I had to do in my tenure, for a lot of reasons.”

Dolce said all budgets are difficult, but “gasoline was added to the fire” preparing the 2021 spending plan because of the pandemic. He said Sundquist, who is in his first year as mayor, and his new administration had a daunting task in preparing their first spending plan.

“Hopefully, the decisions made are in the best interest of our taxpayers,” he said.

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