You can always count on Jeff Lyng to liven up a Hannibal City Council meeting. During Tuesday’s meeting, the outspoken Sixth Ward councilman revisited at length a couple of budget questions related to agenda items on which he’d dissented recently.
In opposing the trio of construction permit fee increases that passed Tuesday night, Lyng has said repeatedly that he isn’t sure the city’s financial situation warrants seeking additional revenue sources rather than making cuts. At one point during the debate, he told City Manager Jeff LaGarce he would rather see the city seek out revenue when it knows and can detail what sort of additional cuts the city might have to make rather than look for revenue in lieu of making cuts.
On Tuesday, Lyng reiterated that sentiment and requested a list of each city department’s requests from the capital sales tax fund, along with LaGarce’s “professional judgment of the importance of each.” When LaGarce said it would be impossible to document those decisions as they happen because they are made on a continuous basis, Lyng amended his request to each department’s budget, plus a version of the budget with 10 percent chopped off.
The discussion, Lyng said, turned on the idea that each department had further cuts to make before it reached the point of looking for additional revenue sources. But LaGarce said the city is already running on an almost painfully austere budget, and City Clerk Angel Vance chimed in, for her own part, that it was impossible to cut any more from her own office.
“(The budget is) bare-bones when we bring it to you,” Vance told Lyng.
“Even in bare bones, I bet we could cut 10 percent if we had to,” Lyng said.
“I could not cut 10 percent from my department,” Vance replied.
LaGarce ultimately agreed to present a budget to the council with an addendum featuring city department budgets with an inverse priority ranking of their line items. But he emphasized that the budget, as it stood, did not yet reflect the construction fee permit increases, which at that point in the meeting had yet to be voted upon.
“So we don’t even know if we need that money yet,” Lyng said before later voting against the fee increases.
It wasn’t the only budget question Lyng had Tuesday.
Readers may recall that in January, the council voted to abolish the vehicle stickers that accompany the city’s annual $5 vehicle license tax. Lyng had campaigned on repealing the tax as well and, at the time of the Jan. 18 vote, said he harbored a “difference of opinion” on the city’s financial situation. Opponents of the tax’s repeal had said the roughly $50,000 in revenue from that tax, which this year contributed to a $400,000 surplus in the city’s budget, was money the city could not afford to lose. First Ward Councilman Kevin Knickerbocker called the surplus “imaginary money” that is typically used to establish the following year’s opening balance.
Lyng said he had compared the opening balance with the city’s cash reserve and had found an average $900,000 shortfall in the city’s reserve. “Is this some of the ‘imaginary money’?” he asked the council.
Doug Warren, the city’s finance director, said the opening balance is a much more complicated figure than the city’s liquid cash reserve. However, he said he would work to develop an easier-to-read detailed report of what figures are used to calculate the opening balance.
The council also discussed snow removal policies, which Lyng said currently put smaller local vendors at a disadvantage. He suggested maintaining a list of snow removal vendors and splitting up snow removal contracts among them so as to avoid granting one large contract to an out-of-town contractor, as occurred following February’s record 18-inch snowfall, most of which Quincy-based R.L. Brink removed for $76,000. Other council members, however, said it was impossible to plan precisely for emergencies of that nature, and the subject dropped.
It’s worth noting that Lyng is up for re-election next month.