Paying for consultant services topped the Superior City Council’s list of priorities for the city’s 2020 budget during a priority-setting exercise Tuesday, June 4.
The next highest priorities were an organizational review of city operations and increasing the number of personnel for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, followed by equipment for the city’s street division of Public Works.
Councilors also proposed cuts with the Douglas County Historical Society, gaining six votes. Cuts for city travel and the Superior Business Improvement District and Superior Business Center all gained four votes.
Councilor Dan Olson proposed cuts to all the business associations in Superior, including the Development Association and the Chamber of Superior-Douglas County. While the proposals gave Olson four additional votes, he said he wasn’t interested in the extra votes and suggested making it one category for cuts. They remained separate, allowing councilors to vote individually for the ones they preferred to cut.
Cutting the Chamber gained only one vote, and no one favored cutting the Development Association.
In addition to the Council’s priorities, Mayor Jim Paine said he will be seeking input from the public either through social media or a public meeting before the city budget is crafted for 2020.
“Later this month, we will begin the process of drafting the actual budget,” Mayor Jim Paine said.
That process will include individual departments developing their own budgets, then meeting with the mayor and finance department to make cuts and applying priorities set by the Council and public, Paine said. He said they will make as many cuts as possible to get to a surplus budget to cover the cost of priorities.
“Our overall goal will be to maintain existing funding as much as possible,” Paine said. “Don’t think because you don’t fund police personnel, we’re going to start slashing police.”
Adding staff to the department garnered five votes, with Councilor Jenny Van Sickle specifying crossing guards with her vote.
Councilors started with 10 votes, but earned additional votes by proposing and supporting cuts, and garnered additional points for their votes when two or more councilors voted for the same priorities for the 2020 budget.
“The idea behind that is we want to see some consensus on the budget,” Paine said.
Councilor Jack Sweeney favored setting aside funding for consultant fees — casting seven votes — as the city’s Finance Committee considers hiring a consultant for an organizational review of city departments this week and continues to wrestle with the high cost of providing employee health benefits. Councilors Ruth Ludwig, Dan Olson and Brent Fennessey also voted in favor of the organizational review, and Esther Dalbec, Craig Sutherland, Warren Bender and Keith Kern joined them in favor of consultants.
Paine said he included the organizational review in the 2020 priorities in the event the Finance Committee doesn’t fund it this year. Paying for the study this year requires the city to utilize about a portion of its contingency fund for 2019.
The Finance Committee considers a proposal by RW Management Group for the organizational study when it meets at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, June 13, in Room 204 of the Government Center.
Sweeney said unlike contracted services, which gained no votes as a proposed cut, consultant fees are a one-time expense.
Paine said the goal of the exercise was to see where the Council is coming together on big ideas for the budget. Councilors are not obligated to vote for any of the priorities they established during the exercise, he said.
“My priorities come in after this process,” Paine said.
The budget will then be presented to the Council in early September.