ICPD budget amendment fails in Iowa City City Council

Following several hours of public and council discussion, Councilor Laura Bergus’ proposed amendment to the fiscal 2024 police department budget failed passage.


Cody Blissett

Iowa City Council holds a meeting in Iowa City on Tuesday, March 7, 2023.

Isabelle Foland, News Reporter

Following tense public and council discussion, Iowa City City Councilor Laura Bergus’ proposed amendment to the city’s police department budget did not pass at the city council meeting Tuesday night.

Bergus’ amendment planned to freeze the police department budget at its current fiscal 2023 amount and shift the proposed increase in funds to a general reserve fund to finance alternative public safety initiatives the council deemed appropriate.

In February, Bergus posted an essay on her website outlining her reasons why she wanted to see this amendment be made. A few points she makes in her essay state public safety should not only rely on law enforcement, and this shift would align more with the values outlined in the city’s strategic plan.

Bergus made two different motions to amend the fiscal 2024 budget: the first allocating about $1.6 million in proposed police department funds and the second shifting the amount to a little under $1 million.

The first amendment failed with a vote of 6-1. The $1.6 million would shift around $1 million in proposed increased funds and about $600,000 in previously unused department funds.

Following the failure of the first motion, Bergus made a motion for a second amendment that would instead only shift the proposed $1 million increase. This amendment also failed but received a 5-2 vote, with Bergus and Councilor Andrew Dunn in favor. 

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, Iowa City Police Chief Dustin Liston said while he supports Bergus’ ideas to implement other public safety initiatives, the police department is understaffed and needs funds to hire more officers and effectively serve the public. 

At the meeting, City Manager Geoff Fruin echoed this sentiment and raised several concerns to the council that could potentially arise due to this amendment. He said the amendment would cause service reduction, continued overworking of officers, and inability to innovate new services related to the police department.

The meeting, which was held over Zoom because of severe weather risks, saw around 50 citizens speak during public comment on the topic of Bergus’ amendment. A large majority of the public spoke in favor of the passage of the amendment, sharing their own personal negative experiences with police and various reasons as to why they supported Bergus’ amendment.

Before the meeting, some local community members and groups also expressed their support on social media, including a statement of support for the amendment from the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students at the University of Iowa. 

While the remaining city councilors voted in opposition to Bergus’ amendments, all councilors stated they supported the idea of financially supporting other public safety efforts but did not feel this amendment was the right way to do so. 

Several councilors, including Mayor Pro Tem Megan Alter, said they would have liked to see the amendment give more specific courses of action instead of putting the funds into a reserve fund to be used later.

“I am not willing to divert funds from the police budget for an undetermined project and in a way that is well-intended but rushed,” Alter said. “You can have ideation, you can have discussions, listening posts, work sessions, but you need to have a plan in place.”

Ultimately, the unamended fiscal 2024 budget passed 6-1, with Bergus voting in opposition.