The City of Meridian is getting closer to finalizing its budget for the next fiscal year.
Over the course of two meetings, various city departments presented their budget needs, many of which included adding more positions.
Police and fire
The Meridian Police Department was among those hoping to expand, starting with the addition of six student resource officers across West Ada elementary schools.
The police department also requested the addition of a detective and a victim-witness coordinator. Along with an ask of $518,965 for three police officers and two police vehicles. It’s unclear what the total amount for all the new positions will be.
Meridian Fire Chief Kris Blume also told the city that the fire department needs more staff to keep up with growth. Blume says in order to staff the new stations, the department needs 30 additional full-time employees, or 35 if administration positions are included.
Fire Station 7 would get 15 full-time employees at a total cost of $2,002,63, and Fire Station 8 would get 15 full-time employees at a total cost of $1,998,710.
A new community center?
At the cost of a new mixed-use project- the city will lose its community center to demolition, with the eventual plans to build a new center. The Parks and Recreation Department asked the council for $1.5 million for the center. This was later dwindled down to an approved $500,000 after some uncertainty at the dais.
“This is the one that I’ve been stewing on the past week… We definitely are going to need a new community. So excited for (this) it’s going to be a great addition to our community,” council member Treg Bernt said “…. I don’t know how in the world we can create a budget when we don’t even know where this thing is going to be. I think that we might be putting the cart before the horse to a certain degree.”
The parks department said it wants this money to carry the project through design, get about 20% of development done and cover construction estimates. With the stipulation that the department will regularly check in with the council, figure out the location and eventually check if a budget amendment is needed.
Housing was discussed at length throughout the budget discussions. Council member Luke Cavener said that allocating these funds feels “premature” and believes the city should figure out how they should approach housing.
“My issue is not with the dollar amount or with the agency receiving,” he said “… I feel that an allocation like this is just a skosh premature. I’m supportive of at least leaving it in the budget for now. But I would really like I think our council to formalize what our approach to housing is going to be between now and the public hearing on this, if that’s doable.”
It was decided that $250,000 would go toward housing needs down from the original ask of half a million dollars. This one-time funding could go to various housing support agencies, such as Jesse Tree, which focuses on eviction and homelessness prevention.
The Executive Director of Jesse Tree Ali Rabe presented during budget discussions and told council that its approach to housing will ensure that this funding goes back to the Meridian families in need.
“We are now supporting about 100 to 150 families each month in the Treasure Valley with rental assistance and case management,” Rabe said. “So a pretty good big operation, managing I think eight different grants now mixed in with government and private funds so we do a really good job at tracking clients will be able to report back to you know how many meridian families we’re serving and be able to verify that those are folks living in this community.”
While Jesse Tree was the only group at the meeting who presented, the money could go to another agency.
“It’d be my intention to put this out to the community, all the different housing groups and let them come in and give a presentation on use of funds to the city,” Mayor Robert Simison said. “I think that’s an important thing for us to hear because I think they’re all doing work in our community for our residents. And they may all be losing funding as well. I think it’s an important part of the dialogue.”
Council member Liz Strader spoke about the city not having a homeless shelter or a domestic violence shelter and that if the council does not fund this, there would be Meridian families feeling the effects.
“This makes sense from the perspective that if we didn’t fund it at all, there is going to be a huge impact, I think to Meridian families in terms of really the only social safety net that we have toward for helping people stay in their housing,” she said
The city council will meet again to discuss the budget in mid-July.