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Ames City Council looks over final draft budget, utility rates

Ames+Mayor+John+Haila+listens+to+a+presentation+during+City+Council+Meeting%2C+Nov.+28%2C+2023.
Josue Aleman
Ames Mayor John Haila listens to a presentation during City Council Meeting, Nov. 28, 2023.

The Ames City Council held a special meeting where councilors heard from city staff regarding utility and tax rate changes and plans for the general fund for the upcoming fiscal year Friday.

Mayor John Haila said he hopes the Legislature understands the city is not “buying all these fancy things” with its money in discussing part of the budget from the general levy would increase “personal services” by $1.53 million including $831,000 to raise salaries for city staff by 3.5% and add 1.5 full-time equivalent employees.

“We want our staff to be fairly compensated we’re not looking at maybe three and a half percent increase at most and increasing inflation,” Haila said.

Ames City Manager Steve Schainker also discussed the council’s upcoming four meetings in the next two weeks.

“The mayor and I went down to talk to the Legislature, and they want transparency to be the front part of the budget process, that’s why I added all these extra hearings,” Schainker said. “But I think, when we look at other cities I don’t think they slice and dice the budget at this level to the public and their residents as much as we do.”

The council will meet three times next week with each city department head presenting their department’s budget. Councilors will make their final decisions and hear public input on Feb. 13.

Property tax rate

According to city documents, the city tax rate per $1,000 taxable valuation would be 1% lower than last year if approved. A residential property that was worth $100,000 in FY 2023/24 and with an average valuation increase of $19,644 would increase the tax from $557.48 to $559.70 or an increase of 0.4%.

Similarly for commercial and industrial properties, when accounting for average valuation increases of a property worth $100,000, the commercial property would increase by $61.90, or 7.05%, and the industrial property would decrease by $8.82, or 0.98%

Utility tax rates

There is one utility rate increase budgeted for the upcoming fiscal year, a 7% increase in the sewer utility. According to city documents, the median cost increase for Ames residents would be $2.16, or a 1.49% increase to the total utility bill.

The electric, storm sewer and resource recovery utilities are currently budgeted to remain the same over the next five fiscal years, but Schainker told the council Friday “there will be increases I can assure you.”

“I want you to know that we’re at [0% increase] for the next five years,” Schainker said. “That’s probably not realistic. It’s based on what we know today. It’s similar to the resource recovery plant, that will probably change the next two to three years when we got our new plan in place.”

The water utility is budgeted to increase by 9% in FY 2025/26 and 2027/28 and the sewer utility will increase again by 9% in FY 2026/27 and 2028/29.

$4.3 million general fund

The general fund is additional funding from the current fiscal year that can be used toward projects in the upcoming fiscal year. Schainker said several of the items listed on the general fund budget were there because the cost exceeded the budgeted amount in the current fiscal year.

“I know everyone’s frustrated,” Schainker said. “That’s why I said during the [Capital Improvement Plan meeting] that this is a time to take a break and catch up. A lot of projects we got approved last year we’re not getting done not because we don’t want to get them done [but] because the cost has exceeded what we budgeted.”

The projects currently in the general fund include:

  • A study for a new animal shelter
  • A master plan for Ontario Park
  • Additional funds for parks and recreation maintenance facility
  • Fire Station #2 relocation study
  • Parks and recreation scholarships
  • Downtown Plaza artwork
  • A sustainability study for city buildings

The council heard the presentation Friday about the general fund uses and could approve, deny or amend the usage of those funds during their meeting on Feb. 13.

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