Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday started making changes to a budget for the fiscal year that starts up in July. Assembly members made some cuts and some additions to the spending plan proposed by staff. They’ll have two more votes on the budget before it’s finalized.

The proposed budget is balanced in the general fund, with spending just over nine and a half million dollars. That’s an increase in spending from the current year of just over one percent. That includes a one percent wage increase for most employees and supervisors of borough departments.

There’s money in the budget to fill a vacant sergeant’s position in the police department and hire an emergency medical services coordinator in the fire department.

Jim Stolpe, new volunteer fire department chief, lobbied for funding for both those positions.

“We do need to have that second position at the fire hall because the person who is doing two jobs just is starting to burn out and the public doesn’t need that, nor do the fire fighters and EMS people need that so I hope you support filling that position and I do support filling the sergeant’s position as well in the police department,” Stolpe said.

The public safety advisory board also recommended funding both those positions.

Borough assembly member Bob Lynn suggested a number of changes to the draft budget. The EMS/fire coordinator’s job was one of Lynn’s recommended cuts.

“Filling that EMT position right now does not solve the whole problem,” Lynn said. “It maybe solves half of it but we need to look at the business model we have and I think there needs to be some shift in duties. I think there needs to be, we need to look at compensation, we need to look at fees, the whole gamut of it.”

But the assembly was split on that change. Jeff Meucci supported fire department funding.

“I mean this is a position that hasn’t been filled for several years,” Meucci said. “By voting to eliminate this fire/EMS coordinator up there it’s not doing anything to make things better by eliminating the position. There is some problems up at the fire department and EMS that this person would help out with.”

The votes weren’t quite there to take out that funding. Lynn’s amendment failed by a 4-3 vote with Brandi Marohl and mayor Mark Jensen joining Lynn in voting to take it out.

Lynn was successful with an amendment to remove funding for a part-time information technology job. That vote was 6-1 with Meucci the sole vote in favor of keeping that funding. It was the same vote to add 30,000 dollars in for unforeseen expenses. The initial draft budget proposed eliminating this contingency money.

The assembly was also split on another suggestion by Lynn, to add 10,000 dollars for contracting to plow private roads in Papkes Landing, outside of the old city limits, or service area one.

“I’m proposing that we treat outside service area one the same as inside,” Lynn said. “And since we’re currently going to do plowing inside I want to do it outside also, for this year.”

Lynn also said the municipality committed to providing snow removal there during the lead up to borough formation. Borough manager Steve Giesbrecht explained the borough’s reason for ending the snow removal.

“We did that because we are taking a maintenance position out of public works that will be primarily doing maintenance and will do very little snow removal,” Giesbrecht said. “So public works in a sense is losing a snow removal person. We are not yet addressing private roads inside service area one with this budget.”

Giesbrecht thought consideration of whether to continue snow removal on private roads within city limits could be a topic for the following year’s budget.

Lynn’s amendment was nearly changed to have borough employees continue that plowing but that failed on a 4-3 vote with Jensen and Marohl joining Lynn in supporting that change. Then the addition of 10,000 dollars to contract for snow removal with a private company passed on a 5-2 vote. Kurt Wohlhueter and Jeff Meucci voted no.

The spending plan covers the fiscal year that starts in July. Borough staff and assembly members anticipate having to revisit this budget and make changes once the state budget is finalized.

The local contribution to the school district would be flat funded at 1.8 million dollars. Other grants to community service organizations are cut 10 percent. And as drafted, the budget does not reduce hours at the library or community gym and pool. However, the pool and gym has been closed Sundays and Mondays this month because of low-staffing and will be closed the second half of May for maintenance work.

The first reading of the budget with those changes passed unanimously. The second reading and a public hearing is slated for May 20th.

In related decisions, the assembly did vote to authorize the borough to pay a consulting firm just over 20,000 dollars plus travel expenses, to look at improving the bottom line at the Mountain View Manor assisted living facility.  The borough is budgeting 150,000 dollars annually from the general fund to make up for a budget deficit in assisted living.

Borough manager Giesbrecht said the need for the study did not reflect badly on the facility’s current manager Shelyn Bell. He acknowledged that the consultants may not be able to help the facility balance its budget and described his conversations with the consulting firms that applied to do the work.

“In some ways you had hoped that they would go wow oh there it is we can really help you,” Giesbrecht said. “Actually kind of the exact opposite happened. They go well, you’re too small. We can tell you that right now. And it sounds like you got a really good handle on what you’re doing but we’ve got some good scheduling models that might help you. We can give you some wage information which we kind of have to a certain extent and we can look at how you’re billing and if there’s any opportunity there.”

The vote was 5-2 to hire a firm called The Fox Group, headquartered near Los Angeles California. Wohlhueter and Marohl voted against that funding. The borough hopes to have recommendations from that consultant in time for the 2021 budget review.