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Morris City Council passes $9.7M budget for 2012

MORRIS - The Morris City Council passed their 2012 budget Tuesday night, but may still need to make revisions after final contracts are signed with the city's two American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) bargaining units. The city has already signed a contract with the Law Enforcement Labor Services union (LELS).

"It's just a budget, it's a tool to give us guidance on how to spend the money," City Manager Blaine Hill told the council. "We could turn around and do a budget adjustment once the final two contracts are done. We'll take a look at that."

The final city budget is about $9.7 million dollars, a 14.3 percent increase over last year's approximately $8.5 million budget. Much of that increase comes from a one-time capital project payment (the Pacific Avenue improvement project) and debt service obligations.

The final budget for the general fund, the city's main operating budget, is about $3.3 million, a 1.1 percent increase from 2011's general fund budget.

When they passed the budget, the council also approved a list of franchise fee projects, capital outlay fund requests and a long-range capital improvement schedule that lays out some of the city's improvement priorities through 2017.

The franchise fee projects include about $440,000 for sealcoating, crackfilling, mudjacking and mill and overlay work around the city. Three of the planned projects - Wyoming Avenue between Highway 28 and West 8th Street, South Street from Atlantic to Columbia, and South California from South Street to Elm Street - will likely be paid for with State Aid Highway Funds.

The listed equipment purchases range from the inexpensive - a $600 paper shredder for the Morris Police Department - to the expensive - $28,000 for a wood chipper for the Streets Department. The budget also includes $16,000 for two furnaces and four air conditioners at the Morris Senior Center, among other expenses.

The capitol improvement schedule is a document that lays out the long-range plan for overall city improvement. The plan outlines specific projects through 2017, then lists everything the city needs to do to finish infrastructure improvements.

"We sat down and looked at everything we need to do and we put it on this document," said Hill. The document is just a guideline, however, and changes can be made.

In 2012, the city will be working on a Pacific Avenue improvement project. In 2013, the city will be on the west side, doing a complete reconstruction on West 9th, 10th, and 11th and side streets. In 2014 the city will move back to Oregon Avenue, and in 2014 and 2015, the city will work on East 4th and 5th.

The council passed the 2012 tax levy - a total of about $1.25 million, a zero percent increase from 2011 - earlier this month, but waited on the budget to try and include information from the union negotiations.

At Monday's meeting, the council also passed resolutions approving wage and benefit changes for non-union employees for the next three years and a labor contract for the LELS Local No. 11 Union for the same time period.

Both contracts include planned wage increases for the next three years - a 1.5 percent wage increase in 2012, and two percent increases in 2013 and 2014 - and a reduction in the city contribution to health insurance.

The city was able to reduce its health insurance contribution as a result of a better-than-expected insurance rates for the city - about a 35 percent reduction from 2011.

Under the new policy, the city's insurance contribution for single coverage employees is reduced from $855 per month to $675 per month and is capped for the next three years. The family contribution is reduced from $966 to $700 per month. City employees will still have the same out-of-pocket insurance cost in 2012.

The policy also establishes a plan for addressing cost increases: the city will pay the first eight percent of an increases, the employee will pay the next eight percent, and the city will pay the remainder.

Hill said the changes to health insurance continue "the groundwork laid last year to bring the health insurance benefit in line with what is affordable for the City of Morris" by reducing the city's contribution.

Hill is still negotiating with the city's two AFSCME unions on their contracts.