The Grand Island City Council voted to form a Mayor’s Committee on Budget Policy to address concerns on how the city will pay for the 7.75 full-time equivalent positions it approved last week.

Last week, the council voted to approved 8-2 to hire 7.75 FTEs. That included six new employees for the Grand Island Fire Department, which had not hired new position employees for 20 years. Councilmembers Mitchell Nickerson and Chuck Haase voted against because of budgetary concerns.

Steele, who was not required to vote on the move, told the council Tuesday that he had reservations about the decision. He said there needs to be a stable revenue source to pay for the new employees. He said the council’s decision created future uncertainty about maintaining a balanced budget.

Steele said he then decided to create a special committee of himself, the city’s finance director and five councilmembers. They will meet independently of the council to look at ways to keep the city’s finances stable. They will also examine ways to pay for the increase in the budget.

Steele appointed councilmembers Haase, Jason Conley, Jeremy Jones, Vaughn Minton, and Clay Schutz to the committee.

Steele said he felt a committee would be more efficient in discussing the city budget concerns than debating it among the whole council. He said that would permit a freer discussion.

The mayor said the council owed it to the citizens of Grand Island to keep the city’s finances stable without creating a financial crisis.

Last week, when approving the additional employees, the council said it would demand department heads find further efficiencies to keep costs under control. They also set ongoing oversight by the council as a condition for them voting in favor of the move.

Nickerson, who voted for the committee, said the committee would report back to the full council with their recommendations, which could either be voted down, agreed upon or amended. He said he thought Steele’s proposal was fair. He said he stood by his vote against hiring the new employees because there was no discussion on financing the new positions.

“We need to find a way to offset this expense,” he told the council.

Minton said it would be necessary for the committee to do a comprehensive examination throughout all the city’s operations to find cost savings.

At last week’s meeting, councilmembers said they supported the need for the additional personnel for the fire department. But the dispute centered around how to pay for the other employees and how many the city should hire.

Mark Stelk, who voted against forming the committee, felt these discussion needed to be debated by the whole council.

Steele casted the deciding vote to form the budget committee because several council members were absent.

Also at the meeting, Steele praised the efforts of all the city workers and departments in their work to clean up the storm damage after a destructive thunderstorm a week ago damaged or destroyed nearly 10% of the city’s urban forest.

Along with hard work and ingenuity city workers showed in cleaning up the mess, Steele also praised the citizens of Grand Island. He said they not only had to clean up the storm damage on their property, but they also helped their neighbors.

“This is a great community, and it was a united effort,” Steele said.

For the record

In other business, the council:

— Approved an economic development incentive agreement with Amur Equipment Finance, Inc. Amur Equipment Finance, Inc. has submitted an LB840 application for a forgivable loan for $160,000.The money will be used to create 15 additional full-time equivalents (FTE) with an average hourly wage of $17. The LB840 request will be for $60,000 for job creation, $50,000 for job training, and $50,000 for infrastructure, totaling $160,000 to be paid over four years.

— Accepted the resignation of council member of Ward 5 Michell Fitzke. She is a veteran of the council who was recently re-elected.

— Approved a proposal for the Burdick Station Maintenance Building. Tim Luchsinger, utility director, told the council that in 2015, an engineering study looked at the feasibility of using the existing steam unit building for the future generation. The study concluded that it is more cost-effective to raze the existing structure than try to retrofit it.

The Burdick Steam unit building will be razed in 2020, eliminating the cost associated with maintaining the structure and mitigating all hazardous materials.

The three gas turbines will remain operational at Burdick Station and provide peaking and emergency backup power to the City. A new maintenance building will be constructed in the location of the existing cooling tower for auxiliary equipment and to perform maintenance on the gas turbines and future generation.

The area of the proposed building will be approximately 6,000 square feet. The bid was awarded to Chief Construction of Grand Island not to exceed $1,740 million.

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I cover business, ag and general reporting for the GI Independent.

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