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With council split, mayor votes for preliminary approval of Pocatello annual budget

Pocatello

POCATELLO — With the Pocatello City Council split 3-3, Mayor Brian Blad cast a deciding vote to advance the city’s annual budget plan.

The next step is a public forum on Aug. 4, at which time residents will be allowed to comment on the budget plan. Any resident who wishes to address the plan can sign up to speak for three minutes.

The plan calls for the maximum 3% increase to property taxes, generating $899,808 in city revenue. A portion of the new funds will go to the creation of eight new city staff positions.

Those new positions include two utility locators, two police officers, a zoo keeper, a transit driver, a sanitation senior operator and a sanitation machinist.

The most contentious matter discussed at Thursday’s budget meeting was the dedication of $238,521 to a “gap” fund for the city’s Street Operations Department.

Those excess funds are planned to be held by the department should an unforeseen need arise.

“We’ve left that in there so the street operations will be able to build some more reserves. If we have a horrible winter, we have the opportunity to do some things with that,” Blad said of the gap fund.

Following a brief discussion, the council voted unanimously to divert $10,000 from that fund to the Parks and Recreation Department.

“We’ve been running them, breathing through straws … since I’ve been on council,” Councilwoman Chris Stevens said.

Council President Rick Cheatum made a motion to approve the plan following the $10,000 diversion. The motion was seconded by councilman Josh Mansfield.

That was when things got a touch difficult.

Councilwomen Stevens and Claudia Ortega asked if the now $228,521 should be held in a general account, rather than a streets excess account. As Ortega pointed out, the funds are not part of a proposed need for streets but a “just in case” savings account.

If streets needs extra money, she said, the council can vote to provide the needed funding from the city’s operational budget.

Other needs exist should streets not need the money, Ortega said, mentioning the roofs at Ross Park and slide at the Ross Park Aquatic Complex.

Cheatum refused to amend his motion.

Tom Kirkman, the head of the street department, told the council he would only spend the money as approved, but that he could spend every cent on the city’s “old” and “deteriorating” streets if allowed.

Mansfield called the council’s plan to reserve those funds for street improvements a “good intention.”

“Given that need, I feel more comfortable, along with council president Cheatum, keeping that money in streets as a clear designation of ‘that’s our intention — to improve the infrastructure of our community,'” he said.

After the streets gap fund discussion, the budget plan went to a vote.

As has happened so many times in the past, the council was an even split. Ortega, Stevens and Roger Bray voted against the proposed budget, while Cheatum, Mansfield and Linda Leeuwrik voted for it.

Split 3-3, the deciding vote went back to Blad.

“We’ve done a lot of of work here and so, yes,” Blad said, voting for the approval of the plan.

At the council’s next scheduled meeting — on Aug. 4 — council members will hear comments from residents. Following the public forum, the council members will once again discuss the proposed plan, taking public opinion into account, before they vote whether or not to approve the plan.

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