Jeff council establishes budget priorities for FY 2019-20

The Jefferson city council at its regular meeting last week set budget priorities for the fiscal year starting next July 1.

As in previous years, council members rated a number of items on a 3-point scale, with 1 being a high priority. A score of six indicates that all five council members and the mayor think an item is a high priority. A score of 18 indicates all six persons think something is a low priority.

Housing and obtaining grants are the highest priorities, as they were in the ranking a year ago. Both were ranked with a six.

Council member Dave Sloan said the city should play a larger role in creating more housing. “For six years this has been a pretty high priority and we haven’t gotten any further along than six years ago…. If the county isn’t going to move on this, I think the city should. Wherever we’ve got to go to get money, we’ve got to get something going in 2019. We’ve talked about this for a long time,” Sloan said.

Mayor Craig Berry noted that employees of Pillar Technology will need housing relatively soon. “We need to be progressive and get something going,” he said.

City administrator Mike Palmer mentioned the amount of time it takes to put together a plan that addresses housing to buy and to rent in various price ranges.

City code/zoning officer Nick Sorensen is chair of Greene County Development Corporation’s housing committee. He told the council the committee is closer to having a plan for more single-family housing than it’s been, but that multi-family housing continues to be a challenge.

Although housing is the highest priority, Berry asked Sorensen to back away from chairing the GCDC housing committee. He noted that Sorensen was recently appointed to one of the governor’s Empower Rural Iowa task forces, and said he wants to assure Sorensen has time to fulfill his city duties.

Economic development, building maintenance and construction of new sidewalks all moved up on the list. Work on the front of city hall was mentioned, perhaps similar to the façade work done around the downtown square.

The Main Street program moved from a score of eight down to 11. Palmer said some rankings went down because the project seemed to be under way and not in need of council attention. Respondents provided comments on some topics, and those were shared without identifying which council person wrote it. Comments regarding Main Street were “Is there a viable Phase 2,” and “Seems like all we are worried about is Main Street. There is more to Jefferson than just the square.”

The animal shelter was ranked at 13, with two persons ranking it as a 1, one ranking it as 2, and three ranking it as 3. Last year it was ranked at 8. Sloan said the committee is working at raising funds for construction but is still looking for $1 million.

Railroad quiet zones has been on the survey for 11 years and was ranked as 8 in 2016. It was ranked at 13 last year and at 15 this year. Sloan said quiet zones should be installed in the future, “but right now we aren’t going to have funds to do it… It affects a lot of people and a lot of people would like it, but it costs $100,000, and it’s pretty hard to justify spending that kind of money for the four or five people that are vocal about it.”

Quiet zones will not be on the survey next year.

The municipal golf course fell to a 16 from 13. It rated 7 in 2014. Four council members rated it at 3 and two rated it at 2. The course’s financial performance is the primary concern. Council member Matt Wetrich is on the council’s golf course committee. He said use is increasing, showing a need for the golf course. “It’s one of those things that’s an expensive entity to run…. We can keep doing things to increase membership… There’s definitely a delicate balance to walk, keeping the cost reasonable for golfers” and meeting expenses.

Council member Matt Gordon said the golf course is used by a narrow segment of the population. “The last numbers we saw, it made $50,000 and it cost $150,000 to run. To me, that’s just crazy… I just don’t see it as a necessity for the city.”

“Any recreational facility in the city is going to cost money. If we can break even, that’s great, and the rec center is close to breaking even. But there are things you’ve got to have, and I think the pool, the golf course, the rec center, the library are all things you’ve got to have,” Sloan said.

Gordon added police, fire and EMS to the survey and ranked each of them 1. Berry said he’s waiting for the county supervisors to contact the city about EMS, “but I don’t think that will happen until June 30.” (Current EMS operator Dennis Morlan’s contract with the county is renewed each July 1; Morlan is 75 years old and said last May he planned to retire. Without another viable option for EMS, he agreed to stay on until that option is found.)

Gordon said he added those items to the survey to encourage the city council to be proactive in the matter.

Click here to see the complete priority tabulation.

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