The City of Berea’s budget for the next fiscal year is one step closer to completion.
The Berea City Council heard first reading of the 200-page document during its bi-monthly meeting Tuesday night and some highlights of the proposal included an increase in the water and sewer bills for Berea Municipal Utilities customers. The previous rate increase occurred in 2016.
“To meet the revenue needs of our water and sewer departments, we will be raising our rates on water (4.35 percent) and sewer (6.06 percent),” City Administrator Randy Stone said during his budget presentation to council members. “That will be sufficient revenue to cover what we have in our budget this year.”
Council member Jerry Little said the budget is a “very important process” and added that he hopes everyone understands that “expenses cannot be more than the revenue each year and you can’t spend more than you take in but you can add up what you didn’t spend in previous years. He said the revenue and expenses are getting “pretty close to even.”
“That’s something we really need to think about,” he said.
Little’s main concern was the tourism budget, which is set at nearly $2 million — $1.8 million — for the next fiscal year, mostly from money funded by 3 percent restaurant tax. He said citizens would like to see better use of the money spent for walking trails, bike paths, a dog park and improving the city’s infrastructure.
Little said tourism spends a “little over a thousand dollars a day a year on advertising.” Little suggested that tourism scale back on its advertising expenditures in the future and “cut the costs for one year” and “see what results it makes.”
“How would you know if you didn’t cut it back and try it for a year?” he said. “It would only be for one year and you could always raise it back up if you saw it was hurting the tourism business and you wouldn’t have to cut or change one program and cut the advertising back to see what is actually working.”
Little praised tourism for allocating money from the next budget for community projects and hopes the trend continues upward next year.
In her council comments, council member Emily LaDouceur expressed concern over tourism being used as a “political pawn” by the council.
The total fund balance starting July 1 is at $13.6 million and funds, with $11 million set aside for the general fund, followed by $6.4 million for public and safety, such as police and fire, $3.2 million for public works, and $1.2 million for the parks department. Employees will receive a 2.5 percent increase based on a performance review.
“We try to make sure in our budget each year is that we put enough in there to stay busy,” Stone said. “Everything doesn’t happen … all (the) projects won’t happen, but we do give our departments the opportunity to pick up one (project) or something else to make sure we are making progress.”
Berea Mayor Bruce Fraley praised the work done on the budget by Stone and Susan Meeks, the department heads and the audit and finance committee chaired by Steve Caudill.
“The key to transparency is the city budget,” he said. “I’ve seen other cities budgets in my short tenure as mayor and two of them I saw were one page, literally one page. Our budget really lays out the spending priorities for our city and I think it’s well done.”
The council also heard first reading on amending the personnel and procedures and amending compensation ranges for part-time tourism and parks and recreation employees and uniform allowances for police and fire.
In other business the council:
• Heard from resident Tim Taylor who questioned why council members weren’t subject to the same rules during public comments at city council meetings. Fraley said council members abide by a municipal order as “it is written” with no prohibition for council members or elected officials regarding responses and time limits “as it stands.” Stone said the rules have changed regarding council comments during the past three decades. “If you go back 32 years ago, council members weren’t allowed to speak on anything that wasn’t on the agenda.”
• Fraley repeated his call — originally given at the April 16 City Council meeting — on the importance of “collectively putting our differences aside and working together for the common good of our city.”
• Went into closed session for 10 minutes but made no decision on a personnel matter prior to the regular business session.