Committee split over new budget for Talent

TALENT — A divided Budget Committee has sent a proposed $9.4 million budget for the coming fiscal year to the City Council. A public hearing and vote on the budget will be held at the council's June 15 meeting.

Council members Chris Auer, Dan Goyette and Diane Glendenning, and Budget Committee member Jason Stricker voted against the proposed budget. The committee includes the mayor, all six City Council members and seven citizens.

Both Auer and Goyette cited projected expenses for labor attorneys as among reasons for opposing the plan.

City officials will enter into negotiations with the Teamster Local 223 as the current contract expires on June 30, 2012. The union represents employees in administration, public works and police departments. City staff proposed $42,000 for labor negotiation attorney fees, up from $7,500 in the current year when no negotiations took place.

"I just wasn't comfortable with the attorney fees and one or two items where I felt I just didn't have enough information," Auer said.

Auer would like to see less money spent for labor attorneys, and he advocated forming a union bargaining committee to take the place of attorneys, as was done in Ashland.

"They formed a committee that has cut a lot of attorney costs and it's a much more collaborative approach," said Auer. "It's a better option not only financially but in involving people. Going with things legally, there's just more tension around it and it inflates costs."

Goyette said City Manager Jay Henry has called for the presence of an attorney during negotiations.

"It's a disagreement about how one should go about such negotiations," said Goyette. "With labor negotiations in small towns, you are ready on both sides to do what's best for the town."

The total budget is down slightly from last year's $9.5 million. Contingency funds are proposed to increase from $518,806 to $752,935. Increases also were made in ending fund balances in accounts to get them to a 10 percent level. Previous policy had called for 5 percent end fund balances.

Some of the contingency fund could be used to replace a public safety surcharge that now raises $144,000 annually through a $4 monthly fee on water bills, said Goyette.

"This public safety surcharge was ... supposed to sunset a few years ago," said Goyette. Instead, the previous City Council turned it into a charge that automatically renews, he said.

"While it's prudent to have a contingency budget, we could take out that surcharge and still have a good balance," said Goyette.

Funds for public art and land acquisition for parks should be included in the budget, said Goyette. The committee called for the council to consider such additions at its June 15 meeting.

The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Talent Community Center, 206 E. Main St., Talent.

No new personnel are proposed for next year. The city has 22 employees.

The largest category in the budget is capital improvement projects, which total $3.1 million in the coming year, down from $3.7 million in this fiscal year. But not all the money shown will be spent before June 30, 2012.

"It's a combination of projects that are happening in the next year and being funded to happen in the next several years," said Denise Woodman, city finance director. "We budget all the funds that are in there because sometimes projects have engineering completed in one year and construction in another."

Capital projects citizens should see in the coming year include improvements to a parking lot at Chuck Roberts Park, improvements to Gibson Street and waterline work on Arnos Street.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at

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