City Council

Ames City Council conducting business on Jan. 14. 

City Council Budget

The Ames City Council and the departments within the city of Ames hosted a three-day meeting breaking down the budget for the 2020 to 2021 fiscal year. 

Ames City Manager Steve Schainker has recommended the budget based on the research and discussion with the staff working for the city of Ames.

“So it’s my responsibility to develop the budget with input from all my department heads and bring it forward to the City Council; they review it, they might want to add to it, take away from it, make sure I've covered all the priorities they have, so they're in a reviewing body now and would have the ability to modify it,” Schainker said. 

The proposed budget, subject to change in the future, has estimated expenditures totaled at $263,300,236 in order to fund the wide variety of services broken down as: 32.3 percent on utilities, 25.1 percent on capital improvements plan, 9 percent on public safety, 8.2 percent on transportation, 8.4 percent on internal services, 7.6 percent on debt service, 6.6 percent on community enrichment and 2.9 percent on general government.

“So when I give a budget and we say it's a $263 million budget and people try to compare [it to] the last year, let's say [it] went up, it's hard to compare because including that budget or number [are] different businesses we operate,” Schainker said. “So you got to make sure you're comparing apples to apples when you try to say, 'Try to show a comparison of where we were last year from this year.' So you have to break it down into smaller pieces to really understand what it will [be] we’re offering in the way of services.” 

The council will hear public input on the proposed budget at their Tuesday meeting and will move to finalize the budget on March 10. 

The proposed property tax is increased from $10.02 to $10.14, a $0.12 or 1.4 percent increase from the 2019 to 2020 fiscal year, meaning an Ames resident will have to pay $10.14 per $1,000 of the taxable valuation if the city manager’s recommendation were to be approved. 

“Property taxes pay for kind of the general services, like parks and recreation, the library, police, fire — those kinds of things,” Schainker said. “Utility fees obviously go for your electric bill, your water bill, your sewer bill, there's a storm water utility as a resource recovery [and] 'How do we dispose of garbage?' So those kinds of fees are important too.” 

This is the lowest rate of increase in taxable valuation since the 2008 fiscal year, according to the drafted budget, which was caused by a global financial crisis. Typically, over the past five years, there has been a 5.6 percent average increase. The causes could include a reduced rollback rate that is mandated by the state, reducing the taxable value of the residential and multi-residential property by $73,520,427, according to the drafted budget.

Goal Setting meeting

Members of the Ames City Council, with the exception of Ward 3 Rep. David Martin, met for a special meeting Jan. 11 to develop the new goals of the Council. The goal setting meeting is the first of two, and no decisions were made during the first meeting.

The total taxable valuation for the 2020 to 2021 property tax levy is $3,112,286,020, a 1.1 percent change from the 2019 to 2020 fiscal year. 

“We make up about a third of the property tax bill, and the biggest portion is education that goes to the schools, and there’s also a portion that goes to the county and DMACC (Des Moines Area Community College),” said Duane Pitcher, director of the finance department for the city of Ames. “Our utilities, those are all funded by the user fees, so when you’re paying for electric utilities [...] that’s only going to the electric utility, that’s not going to pay for parks or other things like that, but also, we’re not collecting property taxes and using that to pay for electric utilities.” 

Within the electric services, the total funding sources increased from $58,824,151 to $59,507,515, a 1.2 percent change from the adopted 2019 to 2020 budget. The total funding source for the electric administration will have a $110,094 recommended increase, $1,252,419, compared to the $1,142,325 budget in the 2019 to 2020 fiscal year. 

“There's two things that are driving that within the electric administration building right now, we do have an old HVAC, Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning system," Donald Kom, director of electrical services for the city of Ames, said during the City Council budget meeting on Wednesday. "This past summer, we found mold in the in the system, and we're going to have to spend some money putting in a new duct system to get rid of the mold. The other thing that has gone up substantially is our dues to NERC (North American Electric Reliability Corporation), which is a requirement in being an electric utility.” 

The electric administration also runs the community solar projects, which was approved by the Council in the fall. The solar farm is expected to be completed this year. 

The recommended budget for the total funding sources for utilities in the 2020 to 2021 fiscal year is $1,804,394, which is $108,936 or 6.4 percent more than the $1,695,458 budget for the 2019 to 2020 fiscal year. 

A factor that contributes to the increase is that the number of customers who experience difficulties in paying their bills on time is increasing, according to the budget plan. 

This is based on various statistics, including the number of delinquent notices being mailed, the number of customers on payment plans and net write-offs as a percentage of sales. The dollar amount of write-offs in the 2018 to 2019 fiscal year was $88,517. In the 2019 to 2020 fiscal year, it was changed to $88,650. This year’s estimate of the dollar amount of write-offs is $92,200.

Data services are also projected to increase $31,425, which is the result of a change in how data service costs will be allocated and the planned upgrade to a new computer program.

Ames City Council stock

Ames City Council discussed ordinances regarding massage establishments as well as options to change the name of Squaw Creek at their meeting on Nov. 26, 2019.

Student tuition and city fees are separate, aside from the transportation fee for CyRide.  

The proposed budget for law enforcement is $10,596,148 for the 2020 to 2021 fiscal year — a $377,717 or 3.8 percent change from the previous year, which was $10,218,431.

The number of assaults has increased, according to an infographic presented by the Ames Police Department Chief Charles Cychosz during the budget hearing meeting Feb. 5. There have been over 400 assaults in 2019 and less than 100 domestic and sexual assaults. The statistics are relevant to the Ames Police Department and do not include the Iowa State Police Department.

While sexual assaults have decreased and domestic violence assaults have stayed relatively low, they still maintain an area of great concern, Cychosz said. 

“What’s driving those numbers up is we look at them more than half that change is due to more frequent calls to adolescent youth treatment facilities in the community,” Cychosz said. “We have several, and there was a time where it was unusual for us to visit; we’re going to some of these locations frequently — we have locations with 100 calls. So the complexity and intensity of some of the problems that our youth treatment facilities are dealing with is leading them to call the police to assist them more often in the past.” 

The increase in assaults also includes a jump in aggravated assault, Cychosz said, as it increased to over 60 assaults compared to the 40 to 50 range over the last several years. 

“This last year’s increase, from 18-19, includes a jump for us in aggravated assaults — those most serious incidents,” Cychosz said. “That’s generally run in the 40 to 50 range over the last several years, and that, too, has taken a jump, that’s in the 60s this year. That may be a one-time, one-year phenomena; there’s some normal variability in these kinds of things, but if that continues, that reflects some challenges to us because those are more serious crimes, an aggravated assault.” 

The total expenditures adopted by the 2019 to 2020 budget is $22,613,042, and the recommended budget for the 2020 to 2021 fiscal year is $22,907,918 — a 1.3 percent change from the adopted budget. 

There will be a public input meeting at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday in the Council Chambers at Ames City Hall, and the regular Ames City Council meeting will follow directly after. 

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