MONMOUTH — The Monmouth City Council on June 4 unanimously approved a $36.5 million budget.

The budget included the addition of a combination residential building inspector, an estimated cost of $101,480.

Councilor Christopher Lopez asked if the new position was “largely cost-neutral.”

“From my notes, I recall that it is anticipated that this will be a largely cost-neutral position, as it would also increase our capacity to take these applications and this would not just add $100,000 to our baseline budget,” he said.

Janet Chenard, finance director, said that is somewhat accurate.

“We have more development at the moment than we can manage,” she said. “If we have more bodies on the ground, we can bring in the revenue faster.”

If the revenue stops though, “the $100,000 would continue unless we make a different decision,” she said. “I don’t know that it is fair to say revenue-neutral, but certainly right now it is very much needed in order to stay compliant with what the state needs us to do for development purposes.”

Public comments

Royal Johnson, former Monmouth city councilor, thanked the budget committee members for their work but said he thinks people should be able to make suggestions.

“We have very good supervisors in this town, I have nothing against them,” Johnson said. “But I thought the idea of a budget and a council meeting was to bring out ideas.”

He said councilors are elected “as a watchdog for taxpayer,” and should oversee where the money goes.

“I kind of heard the comments that we shouldn’t talk about the supervisors, but they all put forward a budget,” Johnson said. “They all tried to get what they can. Your idea is what is most needed, where is it most needed and how does it benefit the community.”

Nan Willis, who chaired the budget committee, said she appreciated the improvements made on the budget process this year.

“The budget committee can revise the proposed budget to reflect changes it wants to make in the local government’s fiscal policy, provided that the revisions result in a balanced budget,” Willis said. “Given this, committee members should be made to feel that suggestions for changes to the budget are OK to put on the table for discussion without this becoming a statement about any lack of trust in the expertise of city staff. Clearly, Monmouth has an exceptional city staff.”

Willis also said that, outside of budget committee meetings, when budget issues are on the council agenda, Chenard, the budget chair and the budget committee members should be present at that meeting.

“This would encourage the city staff to work more closely with the budget committee throughout the year and help to educate this third-party group on the complexity of city finances and the need to tread thoughtfully when changing an approved budget,” Willis said.

Cost of living increase

A 2.27 percent cost of living increase for non-represented employees also was unanimously approved by the council on June 4.

“Many of our employees are in collective bargaining units and those contracts are negotiated by the city manager,” said Mayor Cec Koontz. “However, we have some non-represented employees. They are not represented by unions and it is up to us to sort of establish those rates at this point and we have a report here on that.”

Chenard presented council with information about how the suggested COLA was determined.

“I’d like to emphasize that roughly half of the employees at the city are non-represented,” Chenard said. “It’s not a similar situation to other cities where it is strictly management that are non-represented. It is a lot of our administrative staff, our finance staff, our library staff – all are non-represented, whereas other cities do have unions sometimes for those.”

Chenard said the mechanism the city formerly used to determine COLA “went away.”

“When we met at the budget kickoff meeting earlier this year, there was direction sought and not a lot of direction given, but interest in looking at CPIU instead of a CPIW benchmark because the CPIU is the urban measure,” she said.

The urban consumer measure has a bigger sample base, she said.

Because of that, it tends to be more stable than CPIW, “which can have much higher highs and much lower lows.”

That is one element the city considers, she said.

The Western Region Small City Measure “comes in both a CPUI and a CPIW flavor,” Chenard said.

“We opted for the CPIU western region index,” she said. “That turned out to be very much a middle of the road index through the next several months as we looked at it.”

The February benchmark is lower than what union-represented staff are expected to get.

“With that, it is still 2.27 percent,” Chenard said. “It is a reasonable, and I think justifiable, level that staff recommends.”

Councilor Jon Carey said they have always struggled with indexes because some of the data points relate to the city and some don’t.

“But we do have two negotiated rates and all of this, we’re dealing with Monmouth (city) employees,” Carey said. “I want to be a ‘yes’ on this one because we need to get it moving.”

He said in the future he would like to see an average of the what the city pays members of the police union and the IBEW.

“Those are negotiated,” Carey said. “There’s people involved with that.”

He said a year ago, there was “the anomaly” that rate used was 3.6 percent but “employees at the same organization were getting 2.5 or 2.75 percent.”

“While there’s rationale on both sides, I understand why that was done,” Carey said. “I just wonder if that might be something we can consider so everybody’s sort of at least in the same pen.”

Koontz said they can look at some other ways of doing things and bring it back to the council or the budget committee in January.

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