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Village Council finalizes 2023 budget priorities

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On Friday, Dec. 9, members of Village Council met for a fourth budget session, where they named infrastructure as a major budget priority for 2023.

According to Council President Brian Housh, the additional session was added in an effort to address any final budgetary concerns and answer questions Council members had prior to the second reading of the 2023 budget at the regular Council meeting scheduled for Monday, Dec. 19.

“We want to leave this meeting with a clear indication of what we want to see in terms of some of the recommendations around wage increases and a variety of other things,” Housh said.

Housh was referring to a Dec. 4 memo that Village Manager Josué  Salmerón sent Council, indicating that the Village’s budget was forecasting a deficit of $3,011,720 and suggested two options on the table for Council: cut spending or increase revenues.

Public Works

To ensure the Village has staffing levels that adequately address infrastructure upkeep and critical system upgrades, Public Works Director Johnnie Burns will add $150,000 to the budget, along with offsetting costs of professional and contractor services. According to Burns, the Village has spent $439,000 on outside contractors over the last four to five years. Burns plans to use the money spent to hire more staff and beef up salaries.

Burns also said that not utilizing contracting services also allows him to offer wage increases, which will ensure the Village can hire dedicated lineman who don’t want to do both water projects and high voltage electric maintenance.

“It’s very hard to get someone who wants to do both, and it’s also not right to pay lineman wages for someone who’s doing water,” Burns said.

If the budget is approved, Burns will add three additional public works staff. “We can do more projects with our own staff versus hiring a contractor,” he said.

Council member Carmen Brown said she was satisfied that staffing needs had been addressed.

“I have personally seen guys up in the cherry picker and then in a matter of hours on the mower. One of the things you talked about was people doing two and three jobs and getting paid to do one job. With the additional staff, I think that will take care of a lot of that, and it’s good to start seeing that public works is getting the staff that it needs,” Brown said.

Affordable housing

Council member Marianne MacQueen proposed adding more money to fund affordable housing efforts.

“I would like to see that funded at $40,000 or $50,000,” she said. “This is how cities do it — they devote a certain percentage to something related to housing into that fund.”

According to Salmerón, the affordable housing fund is currently funded through transient guest lodging, or TGL, fees.

“The state wouldn’t approve the affordable housing fund without dedicated revenues, and transfers from the general fund didn’t count,” he said. “So the mitigation fees helped create the dedicated revenue. As we looked at other dedicated revenues that could be there, they would be new assessments [and] building fees.”

Salmeròn said the Village currently has $9,750 in the fund, from revenues received through TGL fees. Factoring in expenses, he expects the fund to increase to $16,000.

“We expect maybe $7,000 in collections in 2023,” he said.

Salmerón also said a conversation around finding other forms of revenue was started by Council last year, but did not net any decisions.

“If you recall, when we were looking at the TGL legislation, we identified more ways than the mitigation fee to fund that affordable housing fund — the other ways were building permits and housing assessments, but we didn’t continue that work,” he said.

According to MacQueen, Council should work on affordable housing if it is a stated goal.

“If we’re really meaning that we are going to do something about affordable housing, then we have to put some money where our mouth is. Otherwise, let’s take that off as a goal because it doesn’t make sense,” she said.

Council member Gavin DeVore Leonard said the Council needs to ensure that the Village has the budget it needs to operate at its current level before taking on affordable housing.

“I would submit that based on what I know about the budget, the main goal is to keep everything going without tanking the ship long term,” he said. “I am generally in the camp of not doing new things until we know that the budget is going to be fine in 2024.”

However, DeVore Leonard said that he’s not against affordable housing efforts.

“I would support the request in a world where we have money,” he said. “Particularly for this community, yes, I want affordable housing, but as it stands, I need to be a little more comfortable with what is actually happening versus what could happen.”

Housh said funding affordable housing is a major policy change for the Village and needs more discussion.

“I don’t know that it rises to the level of substantially changing our budget, but I am also going to say we’ve got time to do this next year,” he said.

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