The city council passed the 2018 Eau Claire budget Tuesday night, but not without some pushback. Councilors Andrew Werthmann,Catherine Emmanuelle, and Kate Beaton all proposed amendments.
Bus fares will increase, but were a subject of hot debate leading up to the vote. News 18 reported Friday Kate Beaton and Andrew Werthmann introduced an amendment to the transit budget proposal that would take $37,000 from the police budget to offset a $.25 increase in bus fares. Those opposed to the amendment said they're interested in lowering fares for low-income riders, but this amendment wasn't the right course of action.
"How do we help people who use the transportation system, but can barely afford to do so? How can we help them have more affordable fares? There will probably be a variety of ideas that come up,” City Council President Kerry Kincaid told News 18. “We are very supportive of having that kind of discussion."
Councilor Werthmann was not pleased with the seven to four vote against the amendment. "If people were really concerned about making it affordable for those that can least afford it. They should have voted yes on our amendment,” he told News 18. “I think this is sort of a tactic. We've known about this fee increase for three quarters of a year,” he explained.
Monday, News 18 reported the budget calls for a fourth ambulance at the Station 6 due to an increased need for EMS. The local firefighters union voiced concern, claiming they would all have to go to an EMS call, leaving no one at the station with the fire truck. Tuesday, Councilor Emmaneuelle proposed an amendment calling for more personnel to man the station by diverting money from a proposed time clock system for employees.
“We've gone 80 years without that process. An electronic hourly reporting process for employees. We could go another year with out it,” Werthmann told News 18. "So hearing what I heard last night from firefighters, from people in that community that they wanted that additional fire fighter service. It's about safety,” he said.
That amendment failed seven to four, meaning no additional staff will be added. Despite the detractors Eau Claire Fire Chief Christian Bell explained to News 18 that he adding an ambulance is the most efficient plan, and it still allows the department to respond to 90% of the calls with in four minutes.
One proposal was withdrawn from Tuesday's meeting. Earlier this week council member Catherine Emmanuelle wanted to amend the 2018 budget, giving city council members a $50 reimbursement for home internet charges.
Later in the week she informed by City Manger Dale Peters that city already had it covered. All city council members have access to Wimax service, which they can use to go online from home.
There was a large turnout in the Eau Claire City Council Chambers as the public got to weigh in on the city's 2018 budget. So many people showed up because of concerns over the proposed increase in city transit fees and the addition of a fourth ambulance to Station 6.
If passed Tuesday, bus fare would go up from $1.50 to $1.75. City staff said there hasn't been a bus fare increase since 2009, and it's needed to help boost revenue.Those opposed to the plan told the council the price hike will lead to a decrease in riders. Friday council member Andrew Werthmann proposed an amendment to the transit budget, calling for the transfer $37,000 from the police budget to offset the fare increase.
“I am a proponent for public transportation," UW-Eau Claire student Hillary Smith told News 18. "I think it is green. It's helpful to community members who maybe can't afford any other manner of transportation. So I would like to see that accessible and affordable for everybody," she explained.
Several firefighters also turned out to lobby for their money from the city council. Under the proposed budget, the city would add a fourth ambulance to Station 6 on the southeast side of the city. The local firefighters union told the council it's concerned about a reduction in coverage and overall protection. It claims under the plan, anytime there's an EMS call, they would all have to travel in the ambulance, and no one would be left at the station with the fire truck. Many residents also voiced concerns, but the chief said this is the most efficient plan.
“So we are just adjusting our service to meet the growing needs with in that community,” Eau Claire Fire Chief Christian Bell told News 18. "It is an aging populating more nursing homes, residential facilities, and an aging population with in station 6's response area. Which is driving the need for an increased EMS response,” Bell said.
The city also proposed a price increase for two city garages. The city's parking administrator said the proposed amendment would only affect parking fees for about 100 people, who have contracts to park in the North Barstow and Farwwell parking garages. The city said the $2/month increase is meant to make sure everyone who uses the parking garages pays the same price.
The city council will vote on the budget Tuesday.