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Erlanger Council Debates Challenged Budget

Erlanger Mayor Jessica Fette presented her budget proposal to city council during a virtual meeting on Tuesday night.

The mayor said that the city would be conservative in the numbers presented, and that she worked with City Administrator Matt Kremer and Finance Director Kara Kramer on crafting it.

Fette also praised department heads for their help.

But some members of council protested the proposal of adding an assistant city administrator, which Fette called for to alleviate some of Kremer's responsibilities.

The members argued that they did not want to add a new position currently, even though the mayor noted that some retirements were likely coming.

Members of council suggested waiting until after the COVID-19 quarantine period passes to discuss the issue further.

There was disagreement as well over who would control the decision about staff positions. Councilman Tyson Hermes said that he did not believe it was council's duty but Councilman Gary Meyer does believe so.

Other members argued that because the new position would require budget approval, that it would be a council decision.

Meanwhile, Fette also suggested the addition of an administrative clerk so that the city can file its own occupational license fees and collect them. The mayor suggested that the move would save the city $20,000 this year and as much as $120,000 in ensuing years. She suggested a salary of $33,924 at $16.31 an hour.

Councilwoman Patty Suedkamp said that with benefits, the cost of the employee would be $58,866.

Kremer, the city administrator, confirmed Suedkamp's position that the new hire would cost around $60,000 total.

Councilman Kevin Burke said that the salary would come out of the possible savings that the city would see.

Mayor Fette also suggested a change in increasing staff members' pay.

Typically, Erlanger pays a 2.3-percent cost of living increase plus a 0.7-percent merit raise. Fette suggested offering the majority of employees a 3-percent pay raise, while also identifying some others for additional increases.

The total cost for the raises would be $95,459, according to the presentation.

Councilman Gary Meyer objected, saying that a 3-percent raise for the majority of employees was too high.

How much the city should spend on parks in the next fiscal year also caused disagreement.

Kara Kramer, the city finance director, said that $500,000 would be budgeted for the parks department. Councilwoman Suedkamp said that she wanted to see that proposal cut in half. Councilwoman Vicki Kyle also said that it was too much to spend on the parks right now.

Councilwoman Kathy Cahill said that it appeared as though $400,000 would be earmarked for the renovation of the bathrooms at Silverlake Park, with the remaining $100,000 to be split among the other parks. Cahill argued that with so many people out of work right now due to the pandemic that it was not the time to spend money on renovating bathrooms.

Councilman Hermes said that if the full amount were split among the city's twelve parks, it would be about $38,000 per.

Mayor Fette said that she wanted to leave the proposed $500,000 amount for now until Public Works Director Peter Glenn could present on the parks to council, which could happen next month.

Councilwoman Rebecca Reckers said that she would like to see Glenn's presentation and that residents want to see where their tax dollars are spent.

Fette said that while some items had been taken from the public works budget, road work dollars were still in tact.

The police department, the mayor said, determined that it could eliminate three part-time positions and divide their work between two other full-time positions to save $39,644.

That money would allow for the hiring of a full-time officer with hazard pay.

The police department's budget also includes four new cruisers and an administrative vehicle, as well as new cameras and internet for the parks. Councilwoman Kathy Cahill said that the idea of internet in the parks had previously been scrapped because council did not want neighbors to tap into that service.

Mayor Fette said that there are certain standards that people expect from their parks.

Councilman Don Niceley expressed concern that the pandemic-induced budget woes would linger.

"We have people starving, or out of jobs," he said. "My salary has come down a half, and some don't have jobs and we're talking parks!  We're going to go into a depression.  It will take at least a year to get back to normal, and unless you have a magic wand, nobody knows when this will be over."

Mayor Fette said that the city collects tax revenue for parks and the city is expected to use that money to provide services. She added that parks have become a place of renewed interest for residents who have no other place to go during the quarantine, and they will want their parks to be genuine retreats.

Niceley warned that the city could not get that tax money if businesses could not pay. He mentioned that he heard that some cities were on the verge of bankruptcy.

The budget will have another discussion before it is scheduled to have a first reading in May and a second reading in June. It must be adopted by July 1.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor

Photo: Mayor Jessica Fette (provided)