After a three-hour Bellevue City Council meeting Monday night, the city has a balanced, albeit frugal, budget to present to its citizens in a few weeks. The cuts were drastic, with each department having to either decrease or eliminate spending in areas that include employee training, maintenance, operations and equipment purchases.
The final proposed city budget passed by the council is $4,015,052.
The budget cuts began Thursday during a special City Council meeting.
With every department head present, the council went through every line item in every department to see where fat could be trimmed.
The Marshal’s Office experienced nearly $70,000 in cuts, including reductions in the fuel budget, and $9,000 cut for trainings and meetings. The deep cuts into the essential service of law enforcement raised a question: “How do you cut and maintain that level of service?” Councilmember Greg Cappel asked at the Thursday meeting. Marshal Ross Scaggs said the department would just need to find free training opportunities and be resourceful with the materials it has.
Monday’s meeting cut closer to the bone, with further cuts made in nearly every department.
“I’m not happy with the budget,” Mayor Ned Burns said in a phone interview Tuesday, adding that even though he was pleased that the council passed a balanced budget, the cuts put Bellevue further behind the curve of providing for its residents.
“I don’t feel like we are able to serve our citizens as best we could,” Burns said.
He said significant cuts were made to public services that were disappointing to see, but necessary to come to a balanced budget.
One area that will not suffer is Mountain Rides, with City Council members unanimously approving a request of $6,500 for fiscal 2020 on Monday night after a presentation by Mountain Rides Executive Director Wally Morgus. The funds will allow for an increase in evening routes heading south from Ketchum to cater to south-valley residents who work late.
But following the funds approval, council members had to buckle down and take a deep dive into city departments that could further minimize expenses.
“The grim reality is we’ve to got make cuts,” Burns said.
By 7:30 p.m., an hour and a half into the meeting, few cuts had been made and council members started delving into dark waters, with talks of cutting the cost-of-living adjustments for city employees from 3 percent to 1.5 percent or eliminating certain positions altogether. Things got even more tense when Councilman Doug Brown threw out the suggestion of closing down the city’s public library for a year, in order to save costs.
“No, stop. Don’t even go any further, absolutely not,” Burns said.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Brown said the budgetary process was a painful one, but one that he took just as seriously as the budgets for his own businesses over the past 30 years.
“When you can’t increase your revenues, you’re going to have problems every time,” he said.
Brown said that even though the process was difficult for everyone, he was grateful that the council was able to unanimously accept a balanced budget, adding that in the future, the city will need to find additional avenues to increase funds.
“These annexations are key to our future,” he said in reference to the Strahorn annexation, which is proposed to bring 150 homes into the city but has been stalled by legal barriers, a citizens-led appeals process and a lawsuit against the city.
A public hearing for Bellevue residents to voice comments and concerns on the budget is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 12. The full city budget is available on the city’s website, bellevueidaho.us.