City Council advances budget, adopts e-cigarette ban

Christie Smith

Council members approved budgeting for CyRide and bike paths before passing an anticipated e-cigarette ban at a meeting of the Ames City Council on Tuesday night.

A final hearing for public input on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2016/2017 is scheduled for March 1, two weeks before the state requires each city to have its budgets finalized.

The proposed budget will lower property taxes for Ames residents by nearly 30 cents per $1,000 of taxable valuation, according to city documents. The city has not proposed raising any utility costs in the plan, something city manager Steve Schainker credits to careful budgeting by staff members and department heads.

One of the notable increases in the proposed 2016/2017 budget is in the category of transportation. Because of a decline of federal funding for CyRide, the city has been asked to contribute an additional 4.9 percent, or nearly $80,000, to the public transportation system.

The city has predicted that CyRide will provide 7 million rides this fiscal year, nearly one quarter of a million rides more than last year’s predicted growth.

Iowa State University and ISU students, who make up the other two-thirds of local CyRide funding, have also been asked to increase their contributions. Students’ fees, which are built into their tuition costs, were increased from $63.35 to $73.10 per semester this year, said ex-officio representative Sam Schulte.

The proposed increase in city funding will contribute to CyRide’s biggest need, according to city documents: employment. The additional $80,000 will help CyRide recruit, train and retain CyRide drivers by providing money for hiring bonuses, referral bonuses and eliminating a lower training wage for new drivers, according to Schainker’s proposal. 

This is not the first time the council has been asked to help supplement Ames’ leading form of public transportation; the city increased funding in 2015 by more than 5 percent from the previous year. In 2014, CyRide funding was increased by more than 4 percent.

Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen, at-large representative for the council, said CyRide has been faced with declining federal funds for several years now.

Transportation will receive 7.5 percent of the city’s total budget in this year’s proposed plan, which is more than a 1 percent increase from last year.

The proposed budget provides an increase in the percentage of funding for each of the eight major categories — utilities, public safety and community enrichment among others — except for the Capital Improvement Plan.

The five-year plan that maps out major projects for the city was granted nearly 40 percent of the city’s budget in 2015, but will receive less than 30 percent of the new budget, according to city documents.

Proposed Capital Improvement Plan projects for 2016-2021 include improvements to several parks, the Furman Aquatic Center and two local fire stations.

In addition, the plan provides funding for several CyRide-related programs to improve pavement on CyRide routes, will help renovate the outgrown CyRide storage facility and help build shelters at several CyRide stops.

Council members discussed amendments to the Capital Improvement Plan to include an additional $150,000 for shared-use path expansions and multi-modal traffic studies. The city has put an emphasis on alternative transportation — like biking or walking — as part of the Healthiest Ames Complete Streets initiative.

Beatty-Hansen said shared-use paths will help relieve the strain put on CyRide and provide opportunities for residents to be physically active.

“The additional benefit is that to our health,” Beatty-Hansen said.

The council voted 6-0 to pass several motions to approve the proposed budget, Capital Improvement Plan and amendments thus far.

A public hearing and final vote are scheduled to occur at the March 1 meeting.

Council members voted 6-0 for a third and final time to pass and adopt an ordinance that will ban electronic cigarette and nicotine delivery systems in public places.

The council was made aware of similar bans in other U.S. cities nearly a year ago when the Story County Prevention Policy Board teamed up with Iowa State’s Health Promotion Club to propose a ban.

After several local health experts and advocators spoke during open forums at council meetings last fall, the council began discussing a potential ban in December.

The proposed ordinance received widespread public support at a Dec. 8 meeting and passed two council votes in January, shortly after a university ban was put in place.

The ordinance will ban e-cigarettes in all of the same public spaces that traditional cigarettes are already prohibited under the Smokefree Air Act, providing exceptions for e-cigarette stores.

Council members also voted 6-0 to approve a resolution granting the ISU Research Park an additional lot of land located at 3200 University Blvd.