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City of Tuscola plans for $4 million on improvement projects

By Kendra Hennis 
Before the April 11 city council meeting, Tuscola City Council members held a budget study session with City Treasurer Alta Long. Long explained over $4 million in capital projects that the council has discussed, as well as equipment upgrades and projects around the city. 

These projects include a possible Cashford Playground, park improvements (including the dog park with grant), park equipment improvements, resurfacing engineering on South Washington, and North Central, and a TIF for the Downtown Development Plan. The Downtown Development Project includes alley renovation in the area, re-paving of city parking lots, and a green space/event space downtown. 

Additional projects include a possible pavement condition rating survey that would give a full report of street conditions, an extension of the street shed, police in-car computer replacement, police evidence tracking system, and a remodel of the Tuscola Police Station. Projects for the fire department include the purchasing of turnout gear and EMS coverall replacements, AED replacements, and completion of a new South Fire Station Annex. The city is also planning on some projects in the water department, including bulk water purchasing interface, water line repair on Route 36 and Egyptian Trail, replacement of the Meadowview Water Line (of which a grant has been applied for) and the Joint Water Agency with Arcola. 

Equipment replacement for the city includes replacement of the Tuscola Police Department’s Impala squad car, the street department’s 2007 Ford F450, two park mowers, a backhoe, and upgrades at the Tuscola Meter Station. The total amount for the projects comes to $4,086,000. Long expressed that fund balances currently remain sufficient. The city also has no current plans to borrow money from residents for the projects. 

She additionally explained that this is the final year of TIF revenues for TIF 1 and Amishland. The Amishland TIF was established in 1998 and includes the sale of Carle lots. TIF 1 was the original TIF for the city established in 1986. 

The council also discussed proposed migration from the current step salary scales by ranges in position and were given a proposal to look at and discuss at the next meeting. The proposal was given after wages were reviewed in light of current market conditions and labor shortages. They also discussed cost-neutral changes to paid-on-call pay scale for the Tuscola Fire Department. This would change to pay officers a monthly stipend vs pay for calls not attended, as well as a separation in pay from probationary firefighters to senior firefighters/engineers. They noted that this plan had been in the works for many years and that the firefighters are on board with the proposal. 

In terms of revenue–the city is showing the same levy as last year; increases in sales tax, home rule tax, and gaming; and IML project increases to state revenues. With general operating expenses; audit costs have increased significantly, the Senior Center flooring needs to be replaced, and the road striping project is moving forward from FY22. In the park department, they are waiting on the OSLAD grant income, tree memorial costs have been raised due to increasing costs, and a new heater is needed for the park shed. In the pool department, it was noted that they should be sufficiently staffed with lifeguards for this year, and that a part-time manager was still needed. It was noted that for the police department, there were increased costs for training. 

From the sewer fund, there were minor building repairs needed as well as a new computer. For the water fund, it was stated that there was likely going to be an increase in water rates for the city. The city is also working on The Joint Water Agency. The agency has its own funds, but if it falls short, Arcola and Tuscola Water Funds will make up the difference. They said that they do not anticipate needing to fund the Joint Agency, but it is possible depending on project costs. It was further stated that water fund cash was overall lower than they like to see, but reasonable with the capital plans in place. 

Bottom line, it was explained that there is a large deficit budget, as planned due to capital spending from grants and savings funds. It was noted that general fund cash balance and reserve accounts are still in good shape. Long ended stating  that this was possible due to many years of the city saving money, over $2 million received by the city in State and Federal grants, and Douglas County’s $1 million participation in improving water infrastructure serving the West half of the county.

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