COVID-19 relief funding for businesses and 2021 budget among topics for next Decatur City Council meeting
The next Decatur City Council meeting on Monday, December 7 at 5:30 PM in the Decatur Civic Center Theater will consist of 12 agenda items including a public hearing on the proposed 2021 budget, financial incentives for the new InnovaFeed facility, financial assistance to small businesses impacted by the pandemic, the purchase of a new ladder truck for the fire department, and the establishment of an employee health care clinic. Below is some additional information on these topics.
FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO SMALL BUSINESSES IMPACTED BY COVID-19
Through the Community Investment Corporation of Decatur (CICD), the city will be able to provide $272,477 in small business assistance to entities impacted by COVID-19. As per the memo accompanying the resolution: “The City of Decatur received additional CDBG funding in the amount of $834,287 to assist residents affected by the recent COVID-19 pandemic. About two-thirds of this amount will be transferred to DOVE for utility and rent assistance payments to Decatur residents ... The remaining one-third, will assist small businesses ... These funds can be used by businesses (able to demonstrate that they have been directly impacted by COVID using HUD criteria), and can be used for business recovery, or for launching new enterprises where the need for such a re-start has also been created by COVID impacts.”
Importantly, and as per the memo, “Businesses who have been cited or fined because of COVID ordinance violations, and/or other local ordinances within the last 12 months are not eligible for assistance through this program.”
FINANCIAL INCENTIVES FOR INNOVAFEED
InnovaFeed, the world leader in producing insect ingredients for animal feed will be building the world’s largest insect protein facility in Decatur. The facility will help meet the increased demand for insect protein in animal feed, and when completed the facility is expected to produce 60,000 metric tons of animal feed protein annually. The completed facility will bring an estimated 280 full-time jobs and 400 indirect jobs to Decatur and be a $50 million investment in our local economy. This is an outstanding and innovative project that demonstrates the synergies and collaborations that are available between our current companies such as Archer Daniels Midland Co. and those across the world seeking to expand.
The city council will likely vote to approve financial incentives for this project including a waiver of up to five years on gas and electric utility taxes and to contribute up to $1.05 million of an estimated $1.25 million project to connect the new facility to Decatur’s sanitary sewer system. I am in support of these incentives and welcome InnovaFeed to Decatur.
CREATION OF EMPLOYEE HEALTH CARE CLINIC
The City of Decatur is considering creating a new employee health clinic. The purpose of the clinic is to improve the health of our employees and their families, and to reduce the impact of rising costs of group health benefits. The clinic would be physician-led and patients would not have to pay deductibles or copays. Furthermore, it is predicted to save city employees over $250,000 annually in out-of-pocket deductibles, co-pays, and other medical costs. The clinic will be overseen by the company Activate Healthcare and includes a provision for the city to exit the contract after one year in the event that savings accrued do not exceed costs of the clinic’s operation. Over five years, it is projected to provide a net savings of $3.2 million.
I am very supportive of the employee health care clinic. It will improve the health of our employees and their families, it will save our employees money and it will reduce city expenses.
The city council is likely to approve the purchase of a Pierce Enforcer fire truck. This 107-foot ladder truck has a 500-gallon water tank and can pump 2,000 gallons of water per minute. The fire truck will cost $1,050,000 and will be financed through a loan whose interest rate is not to exceed 3.5% and the duration of the loan is not to exceed 8 years. The new truck will replace one that has been in service since 1994 and has numerous mechanical issues.
If approved, the 2021 budget will result in a projected deficit of $900,000 to our general fund. In years past, I have voted against budgets with deficits as the city was not in an emergency. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is a health and economic crisis that the city has not faced before and cash reserves accumulated in previous years are explicitly designed to be used for such emergencies.
The 2021 budget projects $70.3 million in revenue to the city’s General Fund (compared to $70.5 million in 2020) and expenses of $71.2 million (compared to $70.3 million in 2020), resulting in a projected deficit of $900,000 in 2021. Cash reserves of the city’s general fund at the beginning of 2021 are expected to be $7.85 million and are projected to decrease to $6.95 million by the end of 2021.
Limited changes have been made to the budget since two city council study sessions took place on November 16 and 23. Total revenue projections in the revised 2021 budget decreased $450,000. These additional decreases were projected in food & beverage tax, video gaming tax (video gambling), and hotel & motel tax, and were partially offset by increases in real estate tax and local use tax (the local use tax is associated with online purchases). Other notable changes of the revised budget included adding an additional $820,000 for contingencies and reducing budgeted salaries in the police ($475,000) and fire ($410,000) departments.
It was important the 2021 budget includes funding to retain the same or increased numbers of police officers and firefighters as public safety must be the city’s top priority. With that said, one of the shortcomings of the 2021 budget is uncertainty surrounding the funding that has been dedicated to better protect the public during the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic including informing the public of assistance that is available and enforcing COVID-19 safety guidelines.
A further area of concern is the path forward regarding neighborhood revitalization. A significant amount of the city’s time and resources in 2020 have been focused on the Johns Hill Neighborhood. All indications are that thanks to the generosity of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation this neighborhood will be positively transformed for many, many years to come. What is needed is for the city to outline how this model will be used in other neighborhoods beginning in 2021.
In short, the 2021 budget is similar to the 2020 budget approved prior to the pandemic. Given significant uncertainties associated with the short and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on the people who live here and their employers, as well as changes in funding at the state and federal level, this budget provides enough flexibility for what may be rapidly changing conditions. The city must respond to these conditions while continuing to advance its strategic goals.
CITIZENS ARE ENCOURAGED TO PROVIDE FEEDBACK TO CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS
If you would like to discuss this or any other issue with a city council member, phone numbers and e-mail addresses for each council member can be found at the following link: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council/.
PLEASE EXPRESS YOUR VIEWS AT CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS
Meetings take place at the Theater located on the second 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/.
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/.