A normally routine vote on a city budget turned into a lengthy debate at Tuesday’s Bowling Green City Commission meeting regarding homelessness in the city.
The budget was up for approval on a first vote, but Commissioners Dana Beasley Brown and Carlos Bailey argued the budget should contain funding for a city position to deal with the issue of homelessness and lack of affordable housing in the city.
City officials have deemed both issues as priorities in recent years, and a city-commissioned housing study in 2019 showed that more than 45% of renter-occupied households in the city are considered cost-burdened by federal standards (pay more than 30% of their income toward housing) and 25% are severely cost-burdened (pay more than 25% of their income toward housing).
That led Brown and Bailey to question why there was funding for a new downtown development coordinator in the city budget, but not for a staff person to work on the homeless and housing issues.
Mayor Todd Alcott said dealing with those issues is also a priority for him, but creating such a position would be “putting the cart before the horse.” He said he wants the city to hold a forum on the issues with stakeholders and then develop a strategy, adding that the commission can amend the budget at a later date.
Brown and Bailey questioned why creation of the new downtown development coordinator position, which is included in the proposed budget with a salary of $50,921, was not a similar case of creating a new position prior to any forums or concrete plans.
“We don’t even have what that position will entail,” Bailey said.
Brown said commissioners agreed at their January retreat that a work session about the homeless issue should be held, “and nothing happened for six months.”
She suggested setting aside funds for a city position to get the process going forward with the commission later determining whether to fill it.
City Manager Jeff Meisel said he was concerned about spending funds on individuals who may not be from the city.
“How are we going to determine we are not helping the whole southeast portion of the United States that are homeless,” he said.
Brown said the person in the proposed position could help guide the development of a plan in conjunction with local nonprofits to make sure funds are spent correctly.
Meisel said the downtown coordinator position is needed because Bowling Green’s “downtown is not developed as it should be.”
City CFO Katie Schaller-Ward said there was no need to amend the budget as Brown proposed, rather, the position would first need to be created with the funding coming later.
Alcott said he would commit to holding a work session and town hall forum within two weeks on housing, homelessness and panhandling.
The commission ultimately agreed to have city staff start doing research on a position in government to deal with those issues.
With that, the budget was unanimously approved on a first reading.
The city’s proposed 2022 Fiscal Year budget is $122 million with no tax hikes as the city economy rebounds from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 2021 Fiscal Year adopted budget saw revenue of $110,342,427 while the recommend 2022 FY budget sees revenue at $122,340,267 – a 10.9% increase.
The budget forecasts the city’s biggest revenue stream – occupational taxes – to increase from $47,266,500 to $54,356,750 – a 15% increase.
That increased revenue projections is allowing for increased spending for 2022 – $75.6 million, up from last year’s $66.9 million.
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