Belleville City Council votes in $113 million budget

News-DemocratApril 21, 2014 

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert.

ZIA NIZAMI — znizami@bnd.com Buy Photo

— Some Belleville aldermen on Monday tried to divert funds from reserves in the 2014-15 budget to pay for police officers, but the majority of council voted to approve the $113 million budget as proposed.

The City Council voted 12-4 to approve the budget, which goes into effect May 1.

Ward 2 Alderwoman Melinda Hult, Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden, Ward 6 Alderman Bob White and Alderwoman-at-Large Lillian Schneider voted no.

This is the third year in a row that Hayden, Hult and Schneider voted not to approve the proposed budgets as presented. White was elected to his first term in April 2013.

The approved budget includes less than a 1 percent increase in general operating expenses from the previous fiscal year.

Hayden said there are lots of great projects in the budget but the budget fails "to protect and serve." He believes the budget does not reflect what residents want, which is for the city to hire more cops.

Hayden proposed moving $200,000 from the city's reserves to pay for two new police hires, but the council voted down his motion, 11-5.

Finance Director Jamie Maitret cautioned against Hayden's proposal, stating that bond rating agencies do not respond well to a negative budget.

Hayden's proposal would have the city spending $200,000 more than it takes in and the bond agencies do not look at how much is in the city's reserves, Maitret said.

Hayden said Mayor Mark Eckert's administration led residents to believe that the city would hire more cops using sales tax revenue from a 0.25 percent increase that was extended to 2017.

Eckert said he and staff only said the $1.2 million in extra revenue can be used to hire more police officers if combined with grant money and the bulk of the revenue was needed to operate the city.

With flat or dipping sales tax and telecommunications revenue, the city needs the money to offset costs such as required raises for union employees this year, Eckert said.

The city currently has 84 sworn officers, the most in the city's history, and Eckert said he will consider hiring another officer this fall if there's money.

The priority is to pay for a new police station, as recommended by the police chief, Eckert added.

The 2014-15 budget does include $380,000 to buy and equip 11 new SUVs for police use and $1 million toward the new police station.

Aside from the police issue, Hult said she voted against the budget because of the irresponsible manner in which the city divides tax increment financing revenue and Schneider said the city should spend more on fixing streets instead of other priorities.

Also on Monday:

* The council voted to move forward with plans related to the new police station and City Hall renovation project by approving a $1.5 million contract with the Lawrence Group as the architect of the project.

The council also voted to accept the findings of the consulting firm's building feasibility study, which named 720 W. Main St. as the best site for new police headquarters.

* The City Council meeting was officially video recorded for the first time Monday night and will be available for viewing on the city's website, www.belleville.net.

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