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Week of council budget hearings kicks off with five department presentations

Ames+Mayor+John+Haila+listens+to+council-member+speak+during+City+Council+Meeting%2C+Nov.+28%2C+2023.
Josue Aleman
Ames Mayor John Haila listens to council-member speak during City Council Meeting, Nov. 28, 2023.

The Ames City Council kicked off a week of three meetings on the $301.6 million proposed budget for fiscal year 2024/25 with five budget presentations from Ames city departments Tuesday.

The council will vote on final approval of the budget and listen to public input during their Feb. 13 meeting. 

Utilities

Director of Water and Pollution Control John Dunn presented on Ames’ utilities, which include water and pollution control, water treatment, water distribution, sanitary sewer collection, stormwater and resource recovery.

Dunn said that the water treatment plant is experiencing “new monthly peak demands being set on a pretty consistent basis” due to dry weather in recent years. However, Dunn said despite this, the department has kept up enough to avoid limiting residents’ water use.

To keep up with high demand and some wells no longer being used due to deterioration or contamination, the North River Valley Well Field is under construction west of the Ames Water Treatment Plant.

Dunn also said the demolition of the old water treatment plant on East Fifth Street is almost complete.

The drafted budget recommends the following changes to utilities from fiscal year 2023/24 to fiscal year 2024/25:

  • Water and pollution control is recommended a budget of $10.44 million, a 4.6% increase.
  • Water distribution system is recommended a budget of $1.85 million, a 5.1% increase.
  • Sanitary sewer system is recommended a budget of $1.02 million, a 3.1% increase.
  • Stormwater management is a recommended a budget of $934,676, a 3.6% increase.
  • Resource recovery is a recommended a budget of $4.24 million, a 6% decrease. 

The electric services budget will be heard by the council Wednesday. 

Public Works

The council questioned the director of Public Works, John Joiner, about water main break frequency over the past several years. With 25 Ames water main breaks during fiscal year 2021/22, 24 in fiscal year 2022/23 and a projected 32 in fiscal year 2023/24, Joiner said the city plans to continue its water system improvement program.

“We should see a decline in [water main breaks] as we make headway to replacing the older mains,” Joiner said. “Last year was a very unusual year, and I think that’s why you are seeing that. With the dry weather and the dry soils, that really caused some unusual shifting activity.”

The number of water main breaks per mile in Ames still falls below the national average of 0.2 at a projected 0.126, according to city documents.

The recommended budget expenses for the public works department from fiscal year 2023/24 to fiscal year 2024/25 are:

  • Public works administration is recommended a budget of $155,991, a 4.1% increase.
  • Public works engineering is recommended a budget of $37,581, a 4.6% increase.
  • Public works GIS is recommended a budget of $177,600, a 2.5% increase.
  • Traffic engineering is recommended a budget of $405,226, a 6.6% increase.
  • Traffic operations is recommended a budget of $1.4 million, a 3.4% increase.
  • Streetlight system is recommended a budget of $900,000, the same as the previous fiscal year.
  • Street maintenance is recommended a budget of $5,600,000, a 3.9% increase.
  • Parking system is recommended a budget of $951,539, a 1.8% increase.
  • Airport operations is recommended a budget of $254,317, a 45.4% increase.

The increase in airport operations is due to the SunSmart solar farm increasing expenditures from $5,000 to $99,477, as the operations budget would decrease under the budget.

Finance

Director of Finance Corey Goodenow said the city receives around 800 phone calls per month and 20 hours of work a month are saved by a system put in place to automatically alert utility users that their bills have not been paid.

“We don’t do a very good job, at least we felt like, coordinating our conversation before it gets to the point of posting a disconnect,” Goodenow said. “We’ve really identified a system that allows us to use text messaging and auto-dialing to notify people and really alleviate some of those phone calls that we haven’t been able to make because we simply don’t have the time to do.”

The system can both give alerts when bills are ready to be paid and inform a customer of a potential disconnect before it gets to the point of a disconnect.

Goodenow also said the addition of allowing people to pay the city in person through a credit card was used by 140 people in January. The finance director also said this benefits both the residents by making it less of a process and city staff by not having to direct people.

The recommended budget expenses for finance from fiscal year 2023/24 to fiscal year 2024/25 are:

  • Utility customer service is recommended a budget of $1.87 million, a 0.3% increase.
  • Parking violation collection is recommended a budget of $160,999, a 3.1% increase.
  • Economic development is recommended a budget of $2.74 million, a 15.1% increase.
  • Financial services are recommended a budget of $2.31 million, a 4.5% increase. 
  • Information technology is recommended a budget of $2.88 million, a 0.2% increase. 
  • Printing services are recommended a budget of $123,623, a 1% increase.
  • Messenger services are recommended a budget of $119,689, a 4.2% increase.

Culture and Recreation

Ames Public Library Director Sheila Schofer and Youth Services Manager Brianne Anderson shared a presentation about the Ames Public Library and its successes from the year.

When asked if library use has returned to pre-pandemic levels, Schofer said the usage has changed but mostly returned to normal.

“Things shifted a little bit, and how people use [the library] are a little different, and honestly even how we program [will differ],” Schofer said.

Schofer also said there will not be as many events that take up the entirety of the library, but the resources will be used in different ways.

The library services budget for fiscal year 2024/25 is $5.79 million toward library services. The number is an increase of 3.3% from the adopted budget of $5.6 million for fiscal year 2023/24.

General Government/Internal Services

Fleet Services Director Corey Mellies said one of the biggest expenditures of the city fleet is fuel, and the fleet operates on nearly 50% gas and 50% diesel.

There were 13 vehicle purchases in fiscal year 2022/23, and is currently at 23 for fiscal year 2023/24. Mellies said some of these purchases are electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles.

The recommended budgets for general government/internal services from fiscal year 2023/24 to fiscal year 2024/25 are: 

  • Fleet services are recommended a budget of $3.61 million, a 4.6% decrease.
  • Facilities are recommended budget of $532,827, a 7.3% increase.
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