Leader Blues

Friday, December 22, 2006

TOP STORY >>Jacksonville passes nearly $20M budget

BY RICK KRON

The Jacksonville City Council approved a $19.9 million operating budget for 2007 at its meeting Thursday night and also re-appointed former planning commissioner Kevin McCleary to a vacant seat on the council.

McCleary was appointed to the city council earlier this year to fill the Ward 5, Position 1 seat, which opened when longtime alderman Robert Lewis died. McCleary’s appointment was set to expire the end of this month. McCleary asked the council to be reappointed to Lewis’ seat again, but Civil Service Commissioner Ron McDaniel also asked for the appointment. Both candidates spoke to the council about working hard for Jacksonville’s future. The council, without out much discussion or fanfare, voted to keep McCleary in the seat. He will serve a four-year term and be eligible to run for the seat in 2010.

The council also approved the 2007 budget, which included $15.5 million for the general fund, up 6.6 percent from this year; $2.1 million for the street fund, up 16.3 percent; $1.4 million for the sanitation fund, up 8.7 percent; and the emergency medical services, up 10.8 percent. Overall, the $19.9 million budget is up 7.9 percent from this year’s overall budget of $18.5 million.

According to Finance Director Paul Mushrush part of the increase was because of salary raises, an increase in health benefits and rise in gas and oil costs. The cost to insure city employees jumped a quarter of a million dollars, going from $1.24 million this year to $1.49 million in 2007. “Our claims were 26 percent more than the premiums paid,” Mushrush explained, “ and that makes it hard to get competitive rates.” In comparison, Sherwood saw no health insurance increase this year.

The insurance increase was so much this year that all employees will have to pay part of it. “Employees on the family plan have always had to pay about 25 percent of the cost. But there has been no cost to those with single coverage,” Mushrush said. Now those employees will have to contribute about $35 a month. In its 2007 budget, the city has earmarked money to give employees a 3.5 percent raise. “With their health insurance contribution, raises for some employees will work out to just two percent.”
Among other increases in the 2007 budget includes a 22 percent increase in capital outlay to complete a number of park projects including a new restrooms signs and a dog park inside Dupree Park.

The sanitation fund was hit with a 26 percent increase in landfill fees when the city negotiated a new contract with Brushy Island landfill.