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Crunching the numbers

Budget time in NL brings public safety discussions
The North Liberty Fire Department is replacing Engine 113 with two trucks: a tanker and a new engine, both due to arrive this year. Doing so will reduce maintenance costs in the new fiscal year (FY), which starts on July 1, Fire Chief Brian Platz said. Platz also asked the city council for funding for a fulltime training officer in his FY21 requests.

NORTH LIBERTY– It’s budget time for municipalities, and the City of North Liberty is no exception. The City Council met to discuss the general fund for the coming fiscal year (FY21), which starts on July 1, in a special session on Tuesday, Jan. 21. City Administrator Ryan Heiar gave councilors a brief overview of budget requests in the categories of Public Safety, Public Works, Culture and Recreation, Community and Economic Development, General Government, and General Fund Revenues with department heads on hand to take questions.
In a memo to the councilors, Heiar noted the city’s taxable value only grew by 1.3 percent, which he called a record low in recent history. Growth in the city has slowed a bit, he noted, and Tax Increment Financing (TIF) valuation increased significantly ($19 million). Heiar expects TIF valuation to decrease next year, and continue a downward trend in the foreseeable future. Heiar said this will help the general fund rebound.
With the 1.3 percent increase in taxable valuation, the city will have $130,000 more in general fund tax dollars collected in FY21, Heiar said.
Public Safety, which includes the police department, fire department, the city’s contribution toward the Johnson County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), building inspections, animal control and traffic safety was examined first.
Overall, Public Safety accounts for 32.04 percent of the budget, down slightly from the current year (33.37 percent) with $3,728,306 in personnel costs.
Police Department– Chief Diane Venenga would like to add one additional police officer, at the mid-year mark (January) that would serve as an investigator and community outreach officer. “The bigger we get, the more calls we have, the better customer service we can provide if we have a second investigator,” she said, adding she would like to have four additional officers, but with the new police station coming online this spring, and the likelihood of unanticipated expenses related to the new facility, she was not asking for them at this time. She hopes to hire an officer dedicated to cyber crimes, noting the trend is that most crimes have a cyber component, ranging from criminal activities online, to GPS on cellphones and/or in vehicles (which can help determine guilt or innocence). Venenga also has two new patrol cars in her budget request.
The chief is asking for a total of $3,050,797, up from $2,898,785 in the current year.
EMA– $22,700 is budgeted, with $9,100 going toward the county’s Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) response team, and the balance to outdoor warning siren maintenance and operation. The EMA expenditure is $550 higher, with Heiar explaining population determines the cost per community.
Fire Department– Chief Brian Platz is asking for a fulltime training officer, a position he hopes to fund at least partly through a federal SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response) grant, to start mid-year. Should the grant not come through, the chief hopes to use FY20 and FY21 dollars.
“The big ask for us is the training officer,” Platz said. Three quarters of the position would be dedicated to developing and delivering training to the volunteer and part-time firefighters. The remainder of the position’s time would go toward helping the fire marshal with inspections. The priority, since the officer would be on duty 40 hours per week, would be to respond to calls during the day.
Platz added the SAFER grant for recruiting and retention has expired, with enough funds left to last until October. This grant has been used to outfit new recruits with protective gear, including the 11 recruits who joined recently. Platz said the plan is to use the remaining money this year and apply for another SAFER grant. He pointed out the department has been awarded the grant twice in a row for eight years of federal funding. However, he has his doubts on pulling off the hat trick of a third successful application.
Protective gear for the current members is in the budget request as well with a replacement schedule being drafted. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) guidelines call for gear to be replaced at regular intervals. For example, helmets should be replaced after 10 years. Also, the fire department hopes to make some upgrades to the fire station, which Heiar noted, is an old building. HVAC improvements would be included.
The chief noted the department’s new tanker truck is due next month while the new engine (pumper) is due in August. Both trucks replace Engine 113, a tanker/pumper. Platz noted replacing 113 will reduce the maintenance costs in FY21.
In total, Platz is asking for $875,565, which is down from the current year’s total of $927,754.
Building Inspection– The FY21 budget decreased 16 percent from $553,493 to $463,409 due to reorganization, which placed Code Enforcement under Planning & Zoning, and from a retirement.
Traffic Safety– The FY21 budget is $36,549, up slightly from $36,188 and is used to pay for crossing guards.
Animal Control– The FY21 budget is $1,000 higher than FY20 at $22,700, with Heiar explaining $1,000 is needed to replace animal enclosures.
A Tuesday, Jan. 28, work session (after this edition’s deadline) focused on capital projects for FY21 and reviewed the proposed Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) for FY21-FY25.
The full council packet and video of the meeting is available on the city’s website.