Jasper budget to make up for previous cuts


JASPER — The City of Jasper will focus on using 2022 as a “make-up year” after making cuts from its 2021 budget and being financially conservative in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Jasper Common Council met with department heads Wednesday to discuss the city’s proposed 2022 budget. The council met from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. to discuss each department’s requests for the upcoming year.

The city’s current proposed budget is about $23.3 million with an advertised tax rate of $1.08 per $100 of assessed valuation, although the official tax rate will be lower, Financial Coordinator Sharon Sander said. This proposed budget is similar to the 2020 budget, whereas departments were asked to cut their budgets by 10% for 2021.

Mayor Dean Vonderheide told council members at the beginning of the day that the city could potentially accept what the departments had requested with very few adjustments, which typically is not the case.

“We’re in pretty good shape, financially, and that’s because we’d adjusted our budgets down expecting to get less revenue this year,” he said.

The city’s two largest expenses are always labor and equipment, Vonderheide explained. When departments were asked to make budget cuts last year, equipment took a harder hit.

“Most of the big expenses they took out was equipment because we still provided services,” he said. “So this year, requests came in with a heavier lean toward equipment than in past years to make up for some of that cycling that they postponed.”

Some new equipment the city is considering are surveillance cameras with license plate readers to be placed on streets.

“It’s not a big-brother situation, it’s a safety situation,” Vonderheide said. “It would help us with our investigations.”

Lawrence County, for example, recovered two stolen vehicles and helped Dubois County with a missing person case within the first week of installing cameras, Vonderheide said.

Vonderheide also explained how the city is focusing more on tourism than in previous years, which should be taken into account when prioritizing city projects. This includes focusing on places such as the new Thyen-Clark Cultural Center.

“Tourism is becoming more important every day,” he said. “Industry has always been our backbone in this area, and we’re hoping it’ll always continue to be a significant part of the area, but it’s not the only thing.”

One area of improvement the city would like to focus on is stormwater management.

“We still have a lot of stormwater issues in the community, and we get a lot of feedback on that from different neighborhoods and stuff,” council member Kevin Manley said.

However, the city is hesitant to designate certain water and sewer projects to the budget because there are other funds it could use, such as money from the American Rescue Plan, or ARP, and the State Water Infrastructure Fund, or SWIF, grant.

The city was awarded a little over $3 million in ARP funds, of which it has already received half. There are tight restrictions on how ARP money can be used, and one of those uses is water/sewer projects.

The city also plans to increase salaries by 3% and also potentially provide bonuses to city employees for being “essential workers.”

“We’ve never been this financially sound, especially with the ARP money and COVID money,” Manley said.

The council is scheduled to meet again Aug. 30 to further discuss the proposed budget.

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