Budget time unusually peaceful

Written for The Argus Observer. Published on May 8, 2015. 

In past years, planning Ontario’s budget has been notoriously contentious, but this year the atmosphere took a turn toward civility.

In three nights, the budget committee approved a $27.4 million budget for the 2015/2016 fiscal year.

“This is the first year in a long time that this has gone so smoothly,” said committee member LeRoy Cammack.

Committee member John Hall said the easy budget approval could be attributed to city staff and the budget that was presented to the committee.

“The city did a tremendous job of putting this together,” Hall said. “That’s why it’s gone so well.”

For the past three evenings, a fourteen member budget committee has met with the city’s various department heads and other administration to lay out a plan for the next fiscal year.

“Rather than tearing apart what the staff gave us, we have jockeyed stuff around and I’m pleased with where we are at,” said Councilor Norm Crume.

The committee ended their first night a little less than $54,000 away from a balanced budget in the general fund. In the second night, certified public accountant with Oster Professional Group, Kari Ott, came back to the table with a few suggestions.

The five changes she floated to the committee, which they unanimously approved, put the general fund balance at $16,873 in the black.

She mentioned that the 2015/16 salary for the full time code enforcement officer will actually be $8,000 less than what was budgeted. Also, the city hadn’t budgeted for help from the public works department on the abatement front, which puts about $24,000 back into the general fund.

“We’re doubled up on abatement because we had it budgeted for the police and CH2M had it budgeted,” said Ott.

Unemployment claims in the administrative overhead budget went up about $500, after staff put in a little more research.

Ott also said any revenue from the medical marijuana dispensaries set to open in Ontario this year hadn’t been included in the budget. Estimated revenues from the shops are between $2,400 and $3,600.

The final change Ott suggested had to do with the fire chief’s replacement. Fire Chief Al Higinbotham is planning on retiring next July and the city is planning on bringing on a new chief before he retires so the newcomer can learn the position from Higinbotham.

The city had a three month cross-over period budgeted for whomever takes on the new fire chief position, and Ott suggested shortening it to one month.

“It would be ideal to have three months, but I can make it work in one month,” Higinbotham said.

Committee member Larry Heidbrink said he wasn’t comfortable with that short of a transition period for the position.

“I’d rather have the money in for that and leave that money in there for the full three months [of transition time],” Heidbrink said.

Other members of the committee, however were behind the idea because the new fire chief would have the support of an experienced crew.

“I’d rather follow the chief’s recommendation of one month,” said committee member Stephen Meyer. “Especially since we have guys on the crew with 20 years of experience. There’s lots of knowledge in that department.”

The general fund was passed at a total of $8,723,620.

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