BY LAURA COLVIN
Kuna Melba News editor
The cost of police service in Kuna could go up by as much as 13 percent, the city’s animal control operations need a drastic overhaul and more than $50,000 in revenue from streetlight fees is about to disappear.
Those were just a few items on the table for discussion Monday as members of the Kuna City Council spent about three-and-a-half-hours in a special workshop meeting that may—or may not—turn out to be the council’s last discussion before adopting the city’s 2013 budget.
Kuna City Treasurer John Marsh presented the mostly-developed 2013 budget proposal, which he’s assembled over the last month or so from council input and direction.
The disappearance of streetlight revenue came as new information to council members.
“A court ruling in Lewiston held that fees of this nature are a tax, and therefore invalid,” Marsh said.
In 2009, then-city council members adopted the streetlight fee at a rate of $.75 EDU. The intention was to repeal the fee if and when a franchise agreement could be reached with Idaho Power, but both Marsh and Kuna Mayor Greg Nelson indicated that attempts at discussion about such an agreement with Idaho Power representatives have been fruitless.
Given the court ruling, however, the council agreed the only option was to repeal the streetlight fee and remove the line item that funneled approximately $50,287 into the general fund in 2012.
The city’s general fund pays for police and prosecutorial services, animal control and government operations—general, planning and zoning, building inspection, park operations, for example—from the general fund.
Currently, the treasurer’s office is projecting total general expenditures for 2013 at $2,514,830.99, with revenue projected at $2,825,140.
An estimated surplus of $310,309 includes a $200,000 carryover from 2012.
A proposed 2013 contract price for police services, which are provided by the Ada County Sheriff’s Office, came in at $1.45 million—or $172,977 higher than last year’s cost of about $1.28 million.
City officials, however, have penciled in last year’s $1.28 million price, and Nelson said he’d like to cap the contract at $1.1 million.
But the costs are set by the Ada County Commission, not the sheriff’s office.
Kuna Police Chief Kody Aldrich told the council he’s running a tight ship and has been able to secure additional services—such as a K9 unit, an administrative position and an additional detective who will work with Kuna Schools—at little or no cost to the city.
Aldrich also said he still has not been able to return the force to staffing levels he maintained before city officials asked him to tighten the department’s financial belt a few years back. He also said operation costs for fuel, vehicle maintenance, etc. are tight, and he only has one realistic option for making cuts.
“The only place we have flexibility is personnel,” Aldrich told the council. “But I would not cut boots-on-the-ground; you would need to cut follow-up staff before you would ever cut any emergency responders.”
Translation: one of the department’s detectives would likely be the first to go, which, Aldrich said, is also not a good idea.
“The community has certain expectations from their police department,” he said, noting, with the council in agreement, that when the numbers are crunched, Kuna police services come in at one of the lowest per-resident costs in the valley.
Council member Briana Buban-Vonder Haar said she did not want to see police services cut and reminded fellow council members that the sheriff’s office was passing on its own increase in expenses and the contract policing service it offers are not-for-profit.
The council also discussed the option of raising property taxes, with some in favor of the idea and some against.
“I think 3 percent is reasonable,” said council member Joe Stear. “In essence we’re running a business here, and our expenses are going up like everyone else’s. We’ve got to at least keep up; if we don’t, we’ll have to go to the public and ask for this money some other time.”
Nelson disagreed, stating that it was “not wise” to add taxes in a recessionary time.
“Half the people in town are already not doing well,” he said.
Council member Doug Hoiland concurred, noting he did not like the idea of a property tax levy, especially with a $3.19 million supplemental school levy on the Aug. 28 ballot.
Potential raises for city staffers were also on the table for discussion, with various options for consideration, including a 5 percent cost-of-living increase or a 1 percent merit-based raise.
Council members generally agreed on the importance of employee retention, but some wondered how raises would be perceived among members of the community.
“While a five-percent raise is well-deserved, we’re going to have members of the public saying ‘I haven’t had a raise, why am I paying for city employees to get one?’” said council president Richard Cardoza.
The council agreed to put discussion of the budget on the Aug. 7 agenda to work out any remaining sticking points, if necessary, and will likely hold a public hearing, as required by law, followed by adoption of the budget at a special meeting Aug. 14