The 2011 budget for the City of St. Marys was approved by city council with a vote of 5-2 on Monday evening. Councilmen Sally Geyer and Dick Dornisch both voted in opposition, and the decision was not without some dissent from a few area residents as well.
During a public hearing held on the city's 2011 budget at the beginning of the city council meeting, a few residents addressed council about what they stated was an unfair increase in their property taxes.
Ned Jacob indicated that he did not believe council members had pursued enough options in terms of reducing the budget. He stated that at one of their budget meetings earlier this year, they had been presented with a number of options including pay freezes, layoffs, and requiring city employees to pay more for their medical benefits.
"These [city employees] work for the people of St. Marys and they're getting better benefits than what a lot of people in St. Marys are," Jacob said. "There's a lot of people that are working in St. Marys and they don't even have a pension plan or a medical plan."
Jacob also expressed the hope that the city may receive some aid from the state in dealing with the budget deficit created by the pension.
"In 2010 the pension budget was $166,000. Year to date, back in November you received $213,500, which was more than what was budgeted for that pension plan," Jacob said. "Do you expect the state to match or come up with that balance to match the $443,00 pension deficit?"
Councilman Steve Skok responded that the city cannot count on any relief from the state because the state is in the same position as everyone else in terms of funding limitations.
Jacob also noted that in 2010 council members had approved transfering $321,000 from the capital reserve fund to the general fund.
"In 2011, this same fund, you do not have a transfer, you have $0," Jacob said. "Could you transfer from the capital reserve the money needed for the pension plan?"
Council members explained that the $321,000 was used to balance the 2010 budget so that a tax increase would not have been needed this year.
"There is no capital reserve. It was used throughout 2010," said councilman Bob Roberts. "That's the problem. The reserves are gone to keep taxes down."
Jacob added that he believed that city residents would be more responsive to smaller tax increases over a period of years instead of a 1.9-mill increase all at once.
"It should have been looked at a long time ago," Jacob said of the city's budget problems.
Tom Schatz also addressed council, explaining that he believed many residents refrained from coming to discuss the budget because they believed their opinions would not be considered anyway.
"City government, state government and federal government, none of them are listening to the people," Schatz said.
Shatz suggested that council members begin to take a different approach to figuring out their budget.
For more on this story, see the Dec. 22 edition of The Daily Press.