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Final department presentations wrap up Ames City Council’s week of budget meetings

Ames+City+Council+Member+Tim+Gartin+speaks+during+City+Council+Meeting%2C+Nov.+28%2C+2023.
Josue Aleman
Ames City Council Member Tim Gartin speaks during City Council Meeting, Nov. 28, 2023.

In the last of three meetings of the week, the Ames City Council concluded its budget meetings with presentations from city staff about their departments’ budgets, including transit, community development and general government/internal services Thursday.

The council will hear from the public Tuesday and vote on the proposed budget.

Transit

Ames Transit Director Barbara Neal told the council Thursday that the Dial-A-Ride, a complementary paratransit service for people who are unable to use the fixed route services, is anticipating 14,500 passengers, which would be a ridership record.

“We’re anticipating ridership this year on Dial-A-Ride will be about 14,500 passengers,” Neal said. “That is the highest ridership on Dial-A-Ride in the history of Dial-A-Ride […] Dial-A-Ride is 80% federally funded, so working with [Heart of Iowa Regional Transit Agency] and shifting people to the right services to Dial-A-Ride helps really ensure the most economical cost for the customer and the Ames community.”

Ward 2 Rep. Tim Gartin asked about the Student Government trust fund that allocates funds to CyRide operations.

“The students have done an excellent job at rebuilding that trust fund,” Neal said. “Because we did receive one-time federal funding, the transit board was able to make some decisions to help the students rebuild that trust fund…We’re projecting it will have an additional $428,000 above the Student Government-directed 10%.”

The recommended transit budget for next fiscal year is $10.9 million, an increase of 3.6% from the current fiscal year.

Community development

Ames Planning and Housing Director Kelly Diekmann spoke to the council about the city’s plans to develop new housing projects in Ames, including finding locations to build new apartments due to Iowa State enrollment increasing.

“For apartments, we’ve seen a similar reduction in production,” Diekmann said. “When ISU peaked in enrollment, it took a long time to digest the supply. We’ve gone through the supply, and we’re probably looking for new sites for apartments this year.”

Ames Housing Coordinator Vanessa Baker-Latimer spoke to the council about current development projects in Ames, including 38 multi-family low-income housing units at the Baker Subdivision, which the city is partnered with the Hatch Development Group and received low-income housing credits to construct.
Baker-Latimer also told the council about plans to sell market-rate lots to use as program income to fund public improvement projects.

Baker-Latimer said it is possible to use these funds for energy efficiency projects to help underserved residents and contribute to the Ames Climate Action Plan.

“I’m telling you, from the ones we’ve done, the radon levels here are very high. So that is possibly one of those things we could do, along with insulation, windows and other things that can help with that,” Baker-Latimer said.

The recommended budgets for community development for the upcoming fiscal year compared to the current fiscal year are:

  • Planning Services are recommended a budget of $1.02 million, an increase of 1.9%.
  • Community Development Block Grant is recommended a budget of $557,990, a decrease of 14.1%.
  • Administrative Support Services are recommended a budget of $522,532, an increase of 5.7%.
  • HOME Programs are recommended a budget of $321,764, a decrease of 20.7%.
  • City-Wide Housing Programs are recommended a budget of $25,453, an increase of 5.1%.

General government/Internal services

Ames Risk Manager Bill Walton said the Ames Power Plant and refuse derived fuel (RDF) process contributes to the majority of property insurance for the city.

Walton also said that insurers are “shying away” from insuring RDF plants due to a fire in Doral, Florida, that destroyed a waste-to-energy plant in February 2022.

“Insurers are shying away from RDF mainly because of a large fire that happened in 2022 down in Florida with a refuse facility,” Walton said. “Staff is working diligently with our broker on this to make sure we can get the renewal numbers as early as possible this year.”

Walton said “it’s a possibility” that the city would lose its insurance due to burning RDF at the power plant.

“Reinsurance is really what’s driving the market right now, and while the market hasn’t continued to harden, it’s not softening either,” Walton said. “So, as reinsurance dollars become available, we’ll see that market soften and rates go down some because there’ll be more competition for that reinsurance dollar.”

Ames Health Promotion Coordinator Kacie Schumann said she has been teaching classes on mental well-being to city employees and explained other health programs to the council.

“Last year, I obtained a mental health first aid instructor verification,” Schumann said. “We continue to see mental well-being challenges among our community members, among our employees, and our employees have said that they have felt better prepared to deal with these types of situations after they have taken this course. So, it’s been a really great tool for our employees.”

Gartin suggested plans to expand mental well-being programs for the Ames community to provide resources for residents.

“I wish there was a way we could replicate this to the broader community,” Gartin said. “What you’re seeing here is just remarkable… That would be huge if the community had that kind of opportunity to participate.”

The recommended budgets for general government/internal services for the upcoming fiscal year compared to the current fiscal year are:

  • Health Insurance is recommended a budget of $12.3 million, an increase of 9.8%.
  • Risk Management is recommended a budget of $3.9 million, an increase of 19.2%.
  • Legal Services is recommended a budget of $1.01 million, an increase of 6.0%.
  • The city manager is recommended a budget of $910,814, an increase of 4%.
  • Human Resources is recommended a budget of $805,382, an increase of 4.3%.
  • The city clerk is recommended a budget of $365,681, a decrease of 15.8%.
  • Communications and Outreach, formerly Public Relations, is recommended a budget of $358,492, an increase of 38.8%.
  • Health Promotion is recommended a budget of $327,557, a decrease of 2.7%.
  • Media Production Services is recommended a budget of $225,109, an increase of 0.5%.
  • The City Council is recommended a budget of $198,506, an increase of 4.3%.
  • Sustainability is recommended a budget of $137,224, an increase of 0.6%.
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