FILE PHOTO: City Council

The Grand Island City Council made a couple of major changes to its 2019-20 budget Tuesday night, lowering property tax revenue by $423,968 and removing the appropriations for 7.75 full-time equivalent positions, which had been approved Aug. 6.

The new FTEs were to include six new employees for the Grand Island Fire Department. Removing the costs of the FTEs will reduce city expenses by $543,000. But the funding may not be removed permanently. A mayor’s committee, formed last month to determine how to pay for the added positions, will continue to work.

Tuesday night’s discussion began with Councilman Mitch Nickerson saying for the first time in his 17 years on the council, he planned to vote against the city budget. The city has worked hard for four years to put its financial house in order, Nickerson said. Adding the 7.75 FTEs without a plan to pay for them would unravel much of that good work, he said.

Councilman Chuck Haase also indicated that he planned to vote against the budget.

More than an hour later, changes had been made.

The moves to lower property tax revenue and remove funding for the FTEs move came on amendments to motions. Both of those amendments passed with help from Mayor Roger Steele. In each case, his vote gave the motion a 6-3 margin.

Steele also cast his first veto as mayor.

After the meeting, Steele said he used the veto because the council voted to add 7.75 FTEs on Aug. 6. Under its fiscal policy, the council has “to identify a stable, ongoing source of revenue to pay for those employees,” Steele said.

And the council did not. Council members “just decided to add a bunch of new employees without making any provision for how they would be paid for,” Steele said.

There was some thought that “perhaps the council would change its mind and reduce the funding for those 7.75 FTEs,” Steele said. “But I wanted to make sure it happened, and I had two ways to do that.”

First of all, he vetoed a property tax increase of $423,968. During the meeting, Steele said the city does not have a revenue problem. “We have a spending problem.”

He “wanted to make sure the council took seriously the proposal to reduce the funding for those employees. And I also did it because I think property taxes are way too high in Grand Island. And I did not want to burden property taxpayers with an increase in property tax while the council was not in compliance with its fiscal policies.”

Later in the meeting, the council did eliminate funding for the 7.75 FTEs. “That was the right decision, but when I issued my veto I didn’t know if they were going to do that or not,” Steele said.

The council tried to override the mayor’s veto, but was unsuccessful. The group needed seven votes, but came up with six.

Looming over the discussion was talk of what LB103 might mean for the city. At one point, Nickerson had to backtrack from a motion he made because he said, after listening to his colleagues, that he did not fully understand the impact of LB103.

After the meeting, Haase said the city is not asking for “any more revenue than we had last year. We’re asking for the same money we had last year.”

The levy will drop a bit, from .3979 to .3848.

Councilman Jeremy Jones said he will work hard to find ways to pay for the paramedic/firefighters.

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