The Preston City Council met for its regular meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 21, to discuss the upcoming 2014 budget.

The proposed budget will be seeing increases in the following budgets: government aid, $9,005; election, $2,750; health insurance, $8,000 and salaries, $6,000.

The levy for the 2014 Project Bond will have a 5.37 percent increase.

City Administrator Joe Hoffman explained to the council that any money they take in during 2014 can be used to make payment in 2015, which would be an interest-only payment.

Hoffman continued, "For the council it's a challenge, wanting to leave some leeway, but if we budget too low it can result in a tax payment that shows significant increase."

The budget will allow for a $1,000 increase per employee for the rise in healthcare benefits, which is a 15 percent increase. Hoffman explained that the city will not know the exact amount to budget until Aug. 28.

This accounts for 15 employees, though half of those are covered by Public Utilities. The employees pay for 15 percent of their healthcare coverage while the city pays the remaining 85 percent.

Councilman Bob Maust questioned the salary increase of $6,000, as he would like to have a breakdown of each salary that is paid by the city. Hoffman agreed to supply this information.

Maust also questioned the interest earnings budgeted within the revenue, which is $12,000. To date, the city has only taken in $573 even though the 2013 budget was $12,000. Hoffman agreed this was "overly optimistic" and will amend this point of the budget.

When talking about the budget, Hoffman called the new sales tax exemption a "wild card" as they will not know how it will affect the city until possibly the 2015 budget, so they aren't quite sure how to account for it in 2014.

"It will be a savings for the city, we just don't have a real good sense on how to show that right now," Hoffman told the council.

He next went on to address the 10 percent contingency of $45,000 saying, "This is a way for council to have more say on miscellaneous revenue. We've used it as basically a shock absorber."

Mostly, this money is a savings account the council has kept for unexpected costs that may arise during the year, since these cost were not budgeted for previously.

The budgeted amount of $90,000 for street maintenance was strongly questioned by councilmembers, as no work has been done this year.

Hoffman responded by explaining that this is budgeted for use only every two to three years, so the city can afford to pay for a larger project, which will end up saving them money compared to doing smaller projects with the $90,000 every year. The city now will have a balance of $270,000 for the scheduled street maintenance next year.

"I look at it as responsible budgeting so we have the money when we need to do it instead of suddenly increasing by 10 percent, or whatever the cost, because we have to seal coat or buy a piece of equipment," rationed Councilman Charles Sparks.

The schedule for street maintenance is based on information from the city engineer and the street assessment that was completed a few years ago.

"This council and previous councils have committed to a more aggressive seal coaling, crack filling and overlay schedule," reasoned Hoffman.

Mayor Kurt Reicks continued, "The reason for that is because on our newer streets we want to do better maintenance than on our old ones that are going to get replaced, so the new streets last 50 years instead of 25."

Maust was upset because he feels the city engineer has more say in the street maintenance determinations than the council or maintenance workers.

Hoffman countered, explaining that the city engineer is the one with a more in-depth knowledge of what can be repaired and what is too far gone to fix.

Maust asked for a 20-year schedule to be made so the council can know exactly what the plans are for the city's streets. Hoffman agreed.

Hoffman acknowledged the shortfall for the storm water projects, which are slated to be part of the 2014 street project. The account is currently in the negative meaning the council will have to choose between three different options before the project is finalized. The options are first to stop the storm water projects, second raise the fees and third try to levy for the expenses. This would affect all properties within the target area. The majority of Preston is included in this area.

Maust moved on to the next item and asked for the utility fund balance so he could see if the fund is making money.

According to Hoffman the city is right on margin with an estimated balance of $1 million. And though that seems like quite a large balance, one must take into account that the electric lines are not insured, so if a storm would damage them they would need this fund to pay for the expenses.

The National Trout Center (NTC) was next on the budget list with NTC Board of Directors President George Spangler in attendance.

Hoffman explained the NTC should be much more confident with their budget this year compared to last year, as their numbers are more realistic.

Spangler advised the council they have budgeted $16,000 for the new half-time program coordinator. This position has not been filled at this time, so this is an estimated amount.

"We don't know the exact amount, the top end for this position is commonly $32,000 and this is a half-time position, so $16,000 would be at the top end of what we would spend on a half-time program coordinator for next year," explained Spangler.

Maust questioned whether the center would have trouble finding anyone willing to accept a position at this rate.

Hoffman reminded Maust, "In two previous years they were able to find qualified, enthusiastic, individuals who were willing to accept that wage for a part-time position."

It was stressed that this position would have to be approved by the council before any persons are formally hired, so if there is any question about the wage at that point it can be dealt with then.

The council agreed on the afore mentioned amendments to the proposed budget and Hoffman will work on all other requested information to be reviewed at a later meeting.

Other business

In other business, the city council dealt with the following matters.

• Hoffman told the council that Economic Development Authority (EDA) director Cathy Enerson is still researching information regarding the property acquisitions discussed during the last council meeting, so there was nothing new to report.

• The council approved a temporary easement for Erlyn Marzolf. This was one of the final steps for the Veteran's Cemetery Project. The DNR had previously accepted a temporary easement for Marzolf.

• The ordinance 111.05, regarding alcohol in public parks, streets, sidewalks, parking lots and alleys, will be further reviewed for possible changes, as Hoffman has received numerous questions regarding the wording. Many of the city's festivities throughout the year are affected by this ordinance, though it is rarely enforced.

• The meeting was then closed as the council discussed the ongoing Forestville trail litigation