Council puts $50K back in piggy bank

Salem appropriations for 2019 restock contingency fund used to aid parks

SALEM — City council unanimously approved the 2019 appropriations Tuesday night, but not without protest by Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey over $50,000 the Finance Committee added to the council contingency fund just prior to the council session.

“It just seems like a waste of that money,” she said while voicing her objection.

The move occurred during the Finance Committee meeting, which was held before what’s expected to be council’s last meeting of the year. City council cancelled the Dec. 18 meeting and won’t meet again until January unless something comes up, with the date to be determined. Council normally meets the first and third Tuesday of the month, but the first Tuesday of 2019 falls on New Year’s Day.

During the committee’s discussions about next year’s appropriations, Councilman Geoff Goll, who’s a member of the Finance Committee, moved that the amount budgeted for the council contingency fund be increased from $77,376 to $127,376. He said he wanted the fund replenished to make up for the money taken out to help purchase the building on Oak Street to house the parks department.

Goll had voted against the council contingency money being used for the purchase, but he was in the minority at the time and the majority of city council voted in favor of splitting the cost for the building with the parks department.

Mayor John Berlin pointed out that the council contingency fund was established with some of the proceeds from leases for oil and gas rights on city-owned land. It was expected that the amount in the fund would gradually go down once council members used the funds for projects that would have a lasting impact on the city. He noted that putting money into the fund takes money from somewhere else, such as capital improvements or elsewhere in the general fund.

Committee Chair Councilman Andrew Null asked if there was any other source for the funds. Berlin replied that if not placed in the council contingency fund, the money would remain available if council needed it for a project.

Earlier in the meeting, Goll asked that money in the budget that was sitting in different dormant accounts be zeroed out so the money would be available for the general fund. He said the Industrial Park development fund was a perfect example of funds that had not been expended but were budgeted. There had been talk about using the money in that account to pay off the loan the parks department secured to pay it’s half of the obligation for the Oak Street building. The city and parks department split the cost for the $95,000 purchase price.

The Industrial Park development fund, which has been used for land purchases in the past, contains $52,075 and is not part of the general fund.

“I don’t think the money should just sit there,” Goll said.

Berlin said it was kind of handy to have that money available when it was needed for a land purchase, noting the city used that fund previously to purchase a damaged building in the downtown which was then demolished.

City Auditor Betty Brothers said some funds can’t be taken out and she would have to get an opinion from the city law director on what can and can’t be done regarding moving some of the money out of dormant funds. The committee requested that Brothers and the law director look at the funds in question and zero them out, but put no deadline on it. Brothers had questioned whether committee members expected that work to be done by the end of the year, with Berlin adding that passage of the budget shouldn’t be contingent on that.

Dickey mentioned how the argument was made about zeroing out accounts that are just sitting there, yet the committee members wanted to put $50,000 into the council contingency fund for it to sit there.

The addition of the $50,000 to the appropriations increased the total for council’s budget from $198,823 to $248,823, with the total for the general fund increasing from $5,966,341 to $6,016,341. Brothers said previously that she was estimating revenue for the general fund at $5.5 million and a $1.6 million carryover to start the year.

In other financial matters, Goll raised several questions regarding end-of-year appropriations and reductions in appropriations, including the usage of the Municipal Events Fund which includes money from the Salem Super Cruise and from the city fireworks fundraising campaign. Council approved both ordinances.

Several council members and the mayor commended city resident Joe Kozar and his committee of volunteers, who also worked with the Beautification Committee of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, to refurbish the old snowflake light decorations like new. Berlin said they did a great job and the lights are brighter. He said the volunteers did the work on their own to put up the new decorations which complement the new LED light bulbs in the lamp posts downtown.

Council also welcomed Boy Scout Troop 3 from the Salem Presbyterian Church on Second Street and a member of Boy Scout Troop 2 from the First United Methodist Church as they led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. Ryan Gillis, an adult leader of Troop 3, said the scouts were there to work on their communication merit badge.