Buchanan budget to bring new programs to city

BUCHANAN – Budgets are not usually the most exciting items on a city agenda, but the passage Monday of a new Buchanan city budget — and the new programs that come with it — was hailed by city officials as the start of a new era.

City residents will soon see the start of new programs on everything from a new rental housing inspection program to new community development efforts. In addition, new positions will be created and other positions will see changes.

Monday’s City Commission meeting was once again held electronically via Zoom as has been the case for most of the last year since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Commissioners are set to return to in-person meetings in July with the lifting of both state restrictions and the county’s state of emergency.

The new 2021-22 general fund budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 calls for a balanced budget of $3,794,668. Commissioners also approved the final budget amendment for the 2020-21 year, with revenue and expenditures balanced at $2,942,754.

The total 2021-22 budget including other city funds such as those for major and local streets and water and sewer enterprise total $7,477,545. The total 2020-21 budget is balanced at $12,689,883-due mainly to the $9 million bond payment received for the water and sewer enterprise fund.

“We’re spending more, but we’re receiving more,” said City Manager Heather Grace Monday. “We’re not spending over the allotted tax revenue we’re getting.”

She noted that the increased spending is tied to the extra revenue the city is getting from marijuana permits and revenue, federal pandemic relief stimulus funding and the bonding for the new wastewater treatment plant.

Along with the budget, commissioners approved funding for a series of new programs.

“I think these new programs signal a change in our community, not only financially but the kind of change we’ve all been wanting,” said Mayor Sean Denison. “I’m really excited. It shows the city is making really good progress in moving ahead.”

“I fully agree, I’m just as excited as you,” Grace said. “We’re aiming to make a big impact at the policy and execution level. Plans that have been discussed for many years are actually being executed to improve daily life.”

A new rental housing inspection program was the first program Grace talked about. She said the city will hire an independent contractor to do the inspections with permit and inspection fees covering that cost.

“We have a great number of rentals, we want to make sure we’re protecting tenants and contributing to the overall health of the community,” she said.

New positions being added include hiring an independent contract city engineer to guide the city on infrastructure decisions. “We think there will be no increase in expenditures overall with the savings from not making unnecessary repairs,” she said. “We’re being pro-active.”

New community development programs will be funded primarily by marijuana and stimulus revenue. Those programs include new economic development incentives, a Buchanan video series, marketing and promotion, the “See the River” initiative, establishing a blight task force and making Mill Alley improvements.

“It’s a matter of being more proactive in using city funds and not increasing the tax burden,” Grace said.

Community Development Director Rich Murphy said the city will be starting a downtown blade program which are vertical signs protruding from buildings. The signs are visible from both sides and is more conducive to pedestrian traffic. The costs would be split between the city and business owners. 

The “see the river” initiative has the goal of returning the city to a time when residents could see, access and enjoy the river from their neighborhoods, he said. The initiative will seek funding to clear away invasive species and overgrown brush. 

A new splash pad is being proposed to be located at the Buchanan Common in the area left of the stage as suggested this spring by Andrews University students. The city plans to pursue due diligence efforts related to the project before pursuing it.

Changes in the personnel area include transitioning the city clerk and city treasurer positions to salaried contract positions without “comp time” and increasing the building inspector hours while still keeping it part-time. She said she will draft new contracts for those positions as well as for a new public safety director position to bring to the commission in July.

Current Police Chief Tim Ganus is expected to take on new responsibilities and get a five percent salary increase. Grace said Ganus will have new duties such as coordinating efforts and training programs between the police and fire departments and serving as the main point of contact for all public safety-related issues.

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