UPDATED: City Council plan wants $1.25 million cut last month to go to neighborhoods; maybe drug prevention

Russ Jehl
Michael Barranda

Two weeks ago City Council cut $1.25 million from Mayor Tom Henry’s plan to distribute $3.25 in unanticipated income tax revenues and delayed a vote on the rest until October. A resolution to be introduced Tuesday specifies how council wants to use that $1.25 million and makes it clear the entire amount should be part of a cooperative, bipartisan budget process.

According to Council Finance Committee Chairman Russ Jehl, the proposal by Michael Barranda, R-at large, would provide an additional $1 million for neighborhood improvements and possibly another $250,000 for drug-abuse programs. Henry’s original plan was to spend $1 million on neighborhoods, $500,000 on opioid abuse prevention, $300,000 to the police department, $200,000 for a “sober living” Lutheran Foundation program, $500,000 for Easter Seals Arc, $650,000 into the city’s cash reserves, $1 million into a homeowner repair program and $250,000 into the city’s commercial facade grant initiative.

Barranda’s bill would transfer the homeowner and facade grant funds to the neighborhoods, although Barranda said the proposed use of the $250,000 is still being discussed. “Our primary rationale was that only one-third went to neighborhoods (originally), Barranda said.

“Doubling the investment in our neighborhoods is council’s primary improvement to the plan,” said Jehl, R-2nd. “The mayor’s omission of council resulted in a well-intentioned but imbalanced bill, where most of the public funds were to be given away to private uses and businesses. Council has proposed these improvements to the plan to better balance our community’s wants, needs, and responsibilities.”

Although council is the city’s fiscal body and must approve the annual budget, Jehl and Barranda have complained that council was not consulted before Henry announced his plans for the money — essentially promising something he had no authority to deliver, Jehl said.

“This is the process working, even though not as it should. We’re being deliberative and doing our jobs,” Jehl said. “If it wasn’t an election year, my hope is that (Henry) would not have deliberately bypassed us. We’re making a statement we want to be more collaborative (in the budget process).”

Although City Council can make cuts, the administration has typically presented a budget to council with little or no prior consultation, said Jehl, who added communication has improved in recent years.

Henry could reject Barranda’s proposal and submit a 2020 budget containing his original ideas, but council could then trim funding for facade grants and home repairs should it choose to do so. Working together before a spending plan is submitted should result in a budget that reflects areas of broad public and bipartisan support, Jehl said.

“(Council) should meet with the mayor up front about the budget,” Barranda agreed.

Henry is a Democrat seeking a fourth term in November; seven of council’s nine members are Republicans.

“To my knowledge, no one from City Council has contacted the administration (about the proposal by Barranda and Jehl), said city spokesman John Perlich. “The original plan submitted to City Council for approval had strong public support. Mayor Henry and city employees have been and continue to be champions of making neighborhood investments and meeting the needs of residents and businesses to move our community forward in a positive direction.”