Today is Thursday, November 20, 2014

City's proposed budget deficit down to $930K

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One suggestion to save money was to remove an extra pay day from the budget that goes to fully budget General Fund salary expenses for $30,600. Buhler suggested removing that extra day and giving employees an extra day off instead.

“A lot of employees won’t affect the general fund because most work in enterprise funds,” Craighead said.

The $30,600 is only for full-time employees who are not salaried workers, and there was discussion about how the loss in personnel would affect operations. Buhler insisted giving every full-time, non-salaried employee an extra day off over the course of the year will not hurt daily operations and be no different than if an employee had to take one sick day in a year.

“I think everything is on the table right now,” said Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath on Thursday about the extra day off.

Warmath proposed cutting back on three areas that she thought had potential to scale back costs, such as fuel usage, training and overtime. In the upcoming budget, the city’s fuel expenditure cost was increased to $800,000 for a $110,500 hit on the General Fund.

“I think there are opportunities in those three areas,” Warmath said.

Warmath called the budgets in some departments for training and overtime “phenomenal” and suggesting cutting 20 percent from those areas as well as fuel use. She has long been calling for a tighter policy on use of city vehicles and pointed out on Thursday she had recently seen a city vehicle at a yard sale in town.

“There’s very little control on how we use city vehicles, and as long as those things are going on, I don’t feel comfortable raising taxes or fees,” she said.

Warmath said the budget the council has been given was full of increases and said there has been reluctance from Craighead to accept cuts the council has been suggesting. She said the whole process has been extremely frustrating.

“I think we are not in touch with reality,” she said. “Why would we need to be adding to the budget?”

Before the work session, during a special-called meeting, the council approved on second reading a 14 percent increase to Water and Sewer rates to not only cover operating costs but projects that have been done to improve the city’s infrastructure.

The rate increase passed due to the Mayor breaking a 3-3 tie between the council members. Warmath, Buhler and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Huddleston voted against the rate increases.

The council also approved on second reading increases to membership fees at the Jimmy Floyd Family Center. The measure increased the cost of a year-long membership at the center by $50 for city residents and $60 for non-city residents.

Also included in the Floyd Center increases were $10 increases to Track Memberships, which many local senior citizens use to walk on the indoor track at the center.

During the work session, Patti Watts, director of the Lebanon Senior Citizens Center, said she was $23,600 “in the good” with her upcoming budget and offered to give the Floyd Center roughly $5,000 to prevent the Track Membership fees from increasing at the center.

Warmath indicated on Thursday the city has been struggling with the Senior Center budget for two years and said many of the seniors who use the center are not city residents. The City of Lebanon gives a $165,000 donation to the Senior Center each year.

Warmath said during the work session that the Senior Center should look into more private fund raising to help sustain their budget.

“We’re really and truly trying to bring our expenses down,” Warmath said.

Ward 3 Councilor Rob Cesternino said he didn’t see many opportunities to cut back because they are already pretty close to the bare minimum in terms of operating each department.

He said he would like to see each department head sit down with the council and give them a full report of what they need to operate their department efficiently, and said having Watts on hand during Wednesday’s budget work session was extremely helpful to talking about the Senior Center.

“I sure would like to give them the opportunity to sit in front of us,” Cesternino said.

When asked about possible reductions, he noted “I’m not seeing anything that sticks out.” He said that they’ve cut back pretty tight already and suggested the only solution is a property tax increase.

In his first budget process, Cesternino said he has noticed that the focus is trying to get the city through only the next fiscal year, and said they need to be looking further down the road. He has previously stated he would support a 66-cent property tax increase that would give the city a $3 million surplus.

“I think we’re going to have to make some big, tough decisions,” he said.

While he supports a tax increase, Cesternino also pointed out with that increase the city should present a list of things they planned to do with the surplus to benefit citizens. He said if there was a surplus from a tax increase he would want to see projects for paving streets or building amenities across the city.

Cesternino said he does not see much consensus from the council members so far in the budget process and said that getting at least three votes on a budget still seems out of reach. While councilors have asked for cuts and reductions in the budget proposals from Craighead, Cesternino said no alternatives are being presented.

“I hear a lot of no’s but I don’t hear any alternative plans,” he said.

Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at phall@wilsonpost.com.

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