The Albany City Council approved its budget Wednesday in a 4-2 vote.
The budget — the first two-year budget for the city — called for cuts in several city departments and was originally approved by the budget advisory committee in April.
“I don’t think any of us like this budget,” Mayor Sharon Konopa said after the vote, which saw Councilors Rich Kellum and Bill Coburn vote against the motion to adopt it. “But right now I feel like we need to have it. We need to start working right away on what we can do to raise funds.”
The budget totals $345 million in all funds and about $86 million in the general fund over two years.
The biggest cuts come to police and fire. A last-minute scramble saw the fire department receive an influx of cash after the council approved an increase in fees the department assesses for plan reviews, ambulance rides and other services. As a result, only two fire positions will be frozen.
The Albany Police Department still faces a $518,000 shortfall in the budget's first year. One lieutenant position and three officer positions will be frozen in the first year and an additional lieutenant and two officer positions will be frozen in the second.
“The people of Albany need to understand what we’re dealing with, with police and fire,” Councilor Mike Sykes said. “When something happens, don’t expect police to be there right away. It’s going to seriously affect the services people got in the past.”
City Manager Peter Troedsson has said the city is expecting longer call times for public services due to the budget cuts.
Aside from public safety, Maple Lawn preschool drew the most public support during the budget process. The preschool operates out of the city’s Parks & Recreation department. It was originally slated to close at the start of the budget process but received a 12-month reprieve with the help of $132,000 provided by the newly approved fire department fees.
On Wednesday, members of the public spoke out against the closure, citing Kellum’s previous contention that the city’s financial involvement with Maple Lawn was discriminatory to parents who send their children to schools that do not receive city funds.
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Kellum doubled down Wednesday, saying, “Maple Lawn, let’s get this straight. I was the person who said it was discriminatory, and the reason I did was because the amount of money the people who bring their children to Maple Lawn pay is a small fraction of the total the city spends on it. People who don’t pay taxes to Albany are being subsidized by people who do pay taxes in Albany.”
Lisa Harlan, Greater Albany Public Schools assistant superintendent, addressed the possible closing of Maple Lawn during Wednesday’s meeting, calling Albany a preschool desert. She said GAPS was expecting funds from the Student Success Act recently passed by the Legislature and was hoping to partner with the city in the future to keep Maple Lawn open.
“It would be helpful to allow us time,” she said. “We will have the funds to partner with the city and we will be in a better position to do that after this next school year.”
Other cuts in the budget included reductions for the city library, the planning department and the municipal court.
Troedsson had originally pitched an increase of the city’s reserve funds from 5% to 6%. However, in May, a $500,000 error was discovered in the proposed budget. Rather than create one two-year budget, two one-year budgets had been proposed, causing the half-million-dollar hole.
Finance Director Jeanna Yeager said that shortfall was filled by contingency funds.
Coburn raised the issue again on Wednesday, asking what the 1% equated to in dollars. Troedsson said it was approximately $400,000.
“So we lost half of it due to the error,” he said.
Kellum cited Maple Lawn and a desire to move away from books and toward digital in the city’s library for his vote against the budget. Coburn said the city had other options of the motion had failed.