McCOOK, Nebraska -- The 2011-12 McCook city budget received final approval Tuesday evening from the McCook City Council. Just prior to approving the budget councilors allocated roughly $150,000 in uncommitted sales tax dollars to various projects.
City staff and even some council members have historically voiced their opposition to allocating the dollars, preferring to leave excess funds uncommitted. Councilman Mike Gonzales spoke out against the practice during the August City Council meeting that attracted many area residents to voice their opposition to a proposed domestic partner insurance policy, as well as a water and sewer rate increase.
After several McCook citizens argued that even a minimal sewer or water rate increase was more than they could handle and accused council members of being spend happy, Gonzales said he hated to say it, but he couldn't help feel like they were right.
Gonzales argued that councilors acted as though they had to spend every extra dollar in the budget when he believed there was nothing wrong with leaving some of the dollars uncommitted. Gonzales comments didn't change anything during that meeting and the practice of committing the majority of sales tax dollars continued Tuesday evening.
The last-minute allocations, moved by Mayor Dennis Berry and Councilman Aaron Kircher, included a $55,000 increase to the expense of the water slide to be built at the municipal pool. The project was initially submitted at $125,000 and was approved for the increase which brought the overall sales tax funded cost of the project to $180,000.
Councilors also approved $50,000 to be allocated towards paying down the sewer bond, which may help reduce the need for future sewer rate increases. Another $45,000 was approved for a drainage project near East Ninth and East G streets.
The McCook Humane Society had requested an additional $3,000 annual increase in July, that amount would have been in addition to the $3,000 annual increase they received from council members in September 2010. Councilors did not approve the increase at the amount requested, but did authorize a $1,000 annual increase. The annual expense to the city of McCook for the regional animal shelter is now at $44,000.
Mayor Dennis Berry moved to reduce a previously approved $2,000 increase down to the $1,000 that was subsequently approved. He said that he appreciated what the Humane Society was doing, "but I don't get increasing dollars to dogs and cats by 7.5 percent and only 2 percent to our employees." Berry further explained that he was not against the Humane Society but that the city had already provided facilities and land, before being approached many years ago for a one time increase to the amount budgeted. "That has since been made an every year amount," said Berry.
Berry's comments reference the 2 percent wage increase to city employees, which references the 2 percent across the board cost of living adjustment that council approved for the 2011-12 employee pay plan. That number in itself drew some criticism because it was higher than 1.4 percent national consumer price index cost of living increase, prompting Kircher to casually suggest during an August city council meeting that reducing it to match the 1.4 would free up dollars to fund a Humane Society increase. With no support for the suggestion Kircher did not make an official motion.
Berry's 2 percent wage increase reference also does not take into consideration longevity and merit increases. The two percent cost of living adjustment equated to $61,086 across all departments, merit increases came in even higher at $76,487 and longevity increases totaled $52,388. The actual increase in payroll, including cost of living, merit and longevity, calculates to approximately 6.2 percent annually.
Councilman Kircher also said that the annual increase amount that the Humane Society was asking for was very small amount, when compared to the overall city budget. He did not agree with approving less than the amount they had requested. Kircher was the lone dissenting vote of the 3-1 approval to increase the annual amount by $1,000. Councilman Shane Hilker was absent from the meeting and did not vote.
The McCook Humane Society has also received criticism for its desire to remain a no-kill facility. Chief of Police Isaac Brown spoke during one meeting that the animal shelter in North Platte had a strict three day policy of euthanizing animals and he believed the lack of one directly related to the budgeting problems in McCook. Brown's argument is solid and even one that the financial advisor to the humane society board, Charlene Riemenschneider, has acknowledged in the past as a possibility. Riemenschneider told councilors in 2010 that the board was going to consider an earlier euthanasia policy for certain animals, she also praised the work of the McCook Humane Society for its efforts in reducing their overall budget.
The cost to the City of McCook has now reached $44,000 for the McCook Humane Society. The North Platte animal shelter, even with their strict euthanasia policy, is budgeted to cost the City of North Platte $258,772 in 2011-12.