After a brief discussion over payroll, Jerome Town Council passed its final budget at its July 25 meeting 4-0. Councilwoman Alex Barber was absent from the meeting.
According to the budget, the town has $1.97 million available in its general fund, with a budgeted expenditure of $967,851.
Councilman Hunter Bachrach was the first to comment on the budget prior to the vote, noting that government expenses are 28 percent higher than last year.
“I hope if we pass this, we will have the revenue next year,” he said.
Mayor Frank Vander Horst said that prior year’s saving were being spent on improvement projects for things like sidewalks, along with raises in payroll that mainly aimed to address six “key” positions. He said he thinks the budget will be lower next year.
“It was a one-time event,” he said.
Councilman Lew Courrier said he thought prior year budgets had been a poor message to city staff due to payroll issues and smaller raises.
“I have felt bad about every damn payroll since I started,” he said.
Vice Mayor Jay Kinsella agreed, noting that over his years on Town Council, dealing with people’s income and therefore their lives was difficult. He noted, however, that the discussions during the budget process went well and were in-depth.
One piece of the budget that council spent time on in prior meetings was the police budget. That it makes up such a large portion of the town’s budget looked bad, they said, and was unnecessary in some areas.
Bachrach took issue with the proposed higher level of pay during a work session, where the police salary varied prior to the budget adoption. He said that the police in the town had a relatively easy job compared to higher-crime areas and were over-equipped to perform their duties, and therefore should not be expected to make as much.
The general sentiment of the council and later Jerome Police Chief Allen Muma was to avoid any type of militarization and that any asset forfeiture money or other outside revenue should be spent on more practical means.
Some of the examples of too much heavy equipment did not come from the police fund. The Humvee the town owns, which was a gift, has sat unused for some time, the main use cited having been as an off-road vehicle for utility work. The town cannot sell it, as per conditions of the gift, but will look into when that might change.
Police pay was also compared to Clarkdale. Council said that it was possible that higher paying municipalities like Clarkdale will continue to take their best men, leaving Jerome to serve much like a training ground for officers to gain experience. Courrier did not take issue with that necessarily, saying that there was little that could be done by competing with cities with larger tax bases.
Bachrach said the town was taking good care of its police, but that it couldn’t do so above and beyond the growth of the town. Giving a large raise to full-time officers, while private sector jobs kept stagnant salaries, was what he took issue with.
As far as the higherranking officers, the sergeant was also up for a raise as well as Muma. Muma’s salary had been discussed with regard to his residency requirement — the police chief must live within Jerome town limits — and how much it would take to live in the area.
The problem of finding a chief after Muma, who has on multiple occasions expressed his love for the town, was brought up, but Courrier said he was confident that it would work out, as they had always been able to staff needed positions and have never had the top salaries in the region.
Muma was at the final budget adoption and spoke to his credentials and dedication.
He pointed to talking down suicidal residents, including some that were armed. Although in his tenure as a police officer, that has not always been the case, leading to what could be described as a traumatic part of the job.
“When you clean the brains off the cement, that changes things,” he said.
He noted that the police department’s reputation has improved drastically since he took over. He said that he has a good standing in the community, as do his officers, and among other departments the reputation has also carried due to courses he trains for other departments.
He said his goal has always been to treat “the people of this town with respect and dignity.”
He also gave examples of high-profile cases the department solved, including an interstate felony case.
“I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but sometimes you’ve got to,” he said.
The council agreed upon a salary of $60,000 per year, up from $50,543 for the chief. The sergeant position will pay $23.36 per hour, up from $21.91 and full-time officers will be paid $18.75 per hour up from between $17 and $17.20 per hour.