City officials are preparing for a chance that they will need $4.8 million to pay debt service from 2014-16, and a millage is designed to help the city make these payments. Officials also plan on transferring $500,000 from the city’s general fund to help pay off those expenses.
“If we do nothing, then, by 2014, we will be faced with a serious shortfall,” City Manager Pat McGinnis said.
City Finance Director Jim Bonamy said the millage is going toward public improvements made at the site — from water, sewer and streets — and it’s not being used to bail out a private developer.
“That 2006 bond was used for infrastructure improvements and environmental cleanup,” McGinnis said, adding that the improvements would have been necessary at some point, even if no developer had plans for the site.
Instead of asking for a millage increase, residents asked City Council to consider making additional cuts.
“Man up and do the right thing,” John Naser said.
Naser said adding to the tax burden of area residents — many of whom are struggling with unemployment and their own budget crises — is the “easy way out.” He said city officials should go through and look for ways they can continue to tighten their belts.
Naser was on City Council when bonds were approved to fund infrastructure at Grand Landing.
“I was opposed to the Grand Landing project and the selling of $15 million worth of bonds,” he said Monday.
While residents spoke out against the proposed millage, most City Council members said the millage needed to be levied.
“The truth is, the Grand Landing project is not going to go away and we can’t wish it away,” Councilman Bob Monetza said. “I don’t see how we can’t raise taxes to address this.”
Monetza said there have been some projects that have already been scaled back, and there is also a level of service residents expect.
Mayor Roger Bergman said knowing what City Council knows, it would be “irresponsible” to not take action by implementing a millage.
“I’d rather assure future city councils of options than put them in handcuffs today,” he said.
Bergman said he was also leery about putting items on the chopping block due to questionable funding situations in the future. “We can delay things,” he said, “but if we delay things, they will be delayed forever.”
While a majority of City Council agreed to raise some type of millage, Councilman Mike Fritz had a different take. He said the city should look at additional ways to save instead of going for a millage.
“I think we should look a bit deeper and figure this out a little more,” he said — referencing position and staffing cuts, and projects that could be trimmed.
The 2011-12 city budget also includes proposed increases in water and sewer rates. Over the next three years, water and sewer rates will increase 12 percent each year, with just the sewer rates increasing this year, to cover deficiencies in the water and sewer funds.
Bonamy said the average water and sewer rate for area residents would become about $35.39 per month.
City Council members will look at and be asked to approve the budget during their May 16 meeting at City Hall. If no decision is made on a budget on May 16, then the one presented Monday night would be implemented, McGinnis said.