2024 budget, garbage and Lake Decatur are topics at next council meeting
Voting on the 2024 budget, new rates and modifications to garbage and recycling services, and moving forward with the Lake Decatur watershed plan are among the 14 agenda items that the Decatur City Council will be discussing at meeting on Monday, December 4.
As Decatur’s population continues to shrink, the city’s revenue from taxes and fees increases considerably putting a significant strain on Decatur residents. In 2018, Decatur City Council members passed a 2019 budget with general fund revenue of $68.0 million. The city’s estimated population size was 71,290 in July 2018. In 2023, The Decatur City Council will likely approve a 2024 budget with general fund revenue of $90.6 million (33% increase). The city’s estimated population size was 69,097 as of July 2022 (the latest estimate available, 3% decrease).
The four largest departments based on general fund revenue are police, fire, public works, and community and economic development. The general fund budget in 2019 for police was $28.1 million, fire $19.7 million, public works $9.9 million, and community economic development $2.4 million. The general fund budget in 2024 for police will be $34.0 million (+$5.9 million since 2019), fire $24.1 million (+4.4 million), public works $11.1 million (+1.2 million), and community and economic development $4.5 million (+2.1 million). It is important to note that each of these departments also has funds outside of the general fund, particularly the Public Works and Community and Economic Development Departments.
In summary, while the general fund revenues necessary to fund basic services have increased $22 million in 5 years, the number of taxpayers in the city has decreased leading to fewer people paying more taxes. Like with every budget I have voted on before it, the 2024 budget does not appear to prioritize expenses that will result in reversing one of the city’s greatest threats, population decline. Citizens of any city expect to have excellent police and fire departments and I am very thankful that we do in Decatur. Citizens expect that we have clean water, effective sewer systems, and a navigable transportation system, all of which Decatur has. Where Decatur continuously falls short is an adequate level of investment in neighborhoods so that people who currently live here will want to stay and people who are moving will move to Decatur. For every year I have been on the council, the Community and Economic Development Department has been understaffed and lacks the resources necessary to keep pace with the rate of blight. The lack of resources is partially due to the city council repeatedly allocating funds that should be used for neighborhood revitalization to be used for other unrelated purposes. This is particularly true of American Rescue Plan funds where millions have been allocated to water projects when we have a water bond in which funds are unspent. As we know from the Johns Hill neighborhood, when neighborhoods are improved, crime is reduced.
GARBAGE AND RECYCLING SERVICES
The Decatur City Council will likely approve changes to the ordinance pertaining to garbage and recycling collection. According to the memo provided to the city council, “The monthly base rate beginning in 2024 will go from $19/month to $23.50/month; but the new ordinance does away with all cart rental fees ... As a result, the majority of residential customers covered by the new ordinance will see no increase in the first scheduled incremental increase ...”
Other changes of note include: “All covered residential customers must use a 64 or 96 gallon, wheeled tote for garbage collection, and a separate 64 or 96 gallon wheeled tote for recycling. Private haulers will be required to provide carts meeting the ordinance's requirements to customers for no additional charge above the base rate. … With some exceptions, most alley pick-ups will be eliminated. … The transition from alley to street collection will be phased-in over a 3 to 4 month period. … Customers who want premium yard waste services (beyond the yard waste services provided under "basic services") will be free to seek-out additional services from the hauler of their choice. Each hauler will be required to post with the city (every January 1st) their rates for premium service.”
“"Basic Service" will include once weekly garbage collection, once weekly recycling collection and disposal, and unlimited yard waste removal for 6 weeks in the Spring and 6 weeks in the Fall, at times set by the city … In the past, these 6-week periods started on April 1 and November 1. "Basic Service" also includes 5 separate bulky waste collections at curb side each year, and each collection event can have up to 5 bulky items. … The base rate is proposed to increase by 4% each year after 2024.”
LAKE DECATUR WATERSHED MANAGEMENT
Since February 2020, the city of Decatur has been working with Northwater Consulting in the creation of the Lake Decatur Watershed Plan. The city council will likely vote to continue these efforts with Northwater for the next two years. One of the main tasks they will be working on is grant management. To date, the city has received over $10 million in watershed funding including a $9.88 million USDA RCPP grant.
Moving forward with the watershed management plan addresses one of the city council’s key goals and strategies to meet the goal (i.e., “implement recommendations of a Lake Management Plan so that the quantity of sediment, silt and nitrates entering Lake Decatur is significantly reduced …”. While I am supportive of our work with Northwater Consulting, the lack of progress in significantly reducing the amount of sediment and nitrates is of concern. Half of the sediment reaching Lake Decatur is from Macon County properties, particularly farmland, and best management practices for reducing sediment loss are well understood. Thus, the key is moving forward much faster with implementation. Furthermore, the funding needed to significantly reduce sediment and nitrates entering Lake Decatur is approximately 50% of the need identified by Northwater in its 2021 report, with approximately $10 million more needing to be allocated.
PLEASE EXPRESS YOUR VIEWS AT THE NEXT CITY COUNCIL MEETING
In addition to the above, other topics of interest at the December 4 meeting include additional funding for senior center services, upgrades to the mobile overtime parking enforcement system, and the purchase of 7 dump trucks. Meetings take place at 5:30 PM in the council chambers located on the third floor of the Decatur Civic Center (1 Gary K. Anderson Place). Free parking is available in the lot immediately south of the entrance. Citizens are encouraged to attend meetings and express their views. Citizens are allotted 3 minutes per person near the beginning of each city council meeting. In addition, citizens can provide comments regarding one regular agenda item per meeting for up to three minutes provided they notify the city in advance (and prior to the start of the meeting). You can request to speak on a particular agenda item at a council meeting by filling out an on-line form at: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/advance-request-to-speak-at-council-meeting/.
CITIZENS ARE ENCOURAGED TO PROVIDE FEEDBACK TO CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS
If you would like to discuss city issues with a council member, phone numbers and email addresses for each council member can be found at the following link: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council/.
AGENDAS FOR CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS ARE AVAILABLE ONLINE
An agenda and information about each agenda item for each city council meeting can be found at: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council-meetings/.