Proposed budget reduces surcharge

JACKSONVILLE — Residents would see a fire protection surcharge drop from $31 to $26 monthly on their utility bills under a 2011-12 budget proposed by the city's Budget Committee.

A fire surcharge increase sparked public outcry in June 2010 when the City Council raised it to the current level from $20 following failure of funding measures at the polls in May. The council action prompted an unsuccessful recall effort against one City Council member, but Mayor Bruce Garrett resigned rather than face a recall election.

Changes in the Fire Protection Fund, administrative structure and ending fund balances all will help lead to a reduced overall budget next year, said Mayor Paul Becker. The proposed budget is $6.7 million, about $361,000 less than the current year.

The City Council will vote on the budget June 21.

"Administrative personnel costs all came out of the fire department fund," said Becker. "We wanted to get some of that stuff back into the general fund where it had been originally."

Becker said the $26 rate should hold for five years because the committee created budgets in all departments that considered projections for that time span.

"It takes a genie to do it in three years, much less five, but we did do it for five years," said the mayor.

A portion of the reduction comes from restructuring city administrative staff, which is estimated to save approximately $66,000.

"Part of what helped here is that we eliminated a lot of half-time positions. We consolidated some of these into full time and basically we strengthened department lines and management lines within the organization," said Becker.

A half-time administrative fire chief position will be eliminated, and Operations Chief Devin Hull will become fire chief.

Other changes include:

  • Planning will become a separate department from administration under Planning Director Amy Stevenson.
  • Treasurer Stacy McNichols will become head of the Administrative Department and take on the office manager role.
  • A year-round, part-time community service and code-enforcement officer will be hired.

"We are not looking at anything for big purchases," said Becker.

In this fiscal year, the city has spent $180,000 for a street sweeper and $100,000 for property to add to the cemetery. Next year the city will pay off a fire truck, saving $20,000 in interest over five years.

The Parks, Recreation and Visitors Services fund is budgeted at $548,515, down from $595,620. The reduction reflects, in part, a decrease in grant funds.

Last year several members voted against the budget although a majority favored recommendation to the council. Budget Committee members unanimously recommended the budget after the end of their second meeting this year, Becker reported.

"I thought we were all going to go out to the bar on the corner of California Street and celebrate," said Becker.

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

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