Trimming the fat
City struggles with economic realities
For the first time in 12 years, the city is having to deal with a significant decline in revenue.
The Finance/Personnel Committee, department heads and a handful of spectators crowded into the conference room of the Administration Building at 5:30, Sept. 23, for the second of three meetings devoted to preparing a city budget to present to the City Council in December
All departments, except Streets, have budget short falls. The budget short falls resulted from departs’ expenses having exceeded their income. The estimated losses include about $17,000 for the Library; $25,000 for Fire; $149,000 for Police; $45,000 for Parks and $89,000 for Courts. At the meeting each department head discusses with the committee options for bringing their spending within administration guidelines. For the Library, much of the shortfall can be covered by County Library funds.
Present were Mayor Jan Throgmorton, City Treasures Kristie Drymon, Councilmember Justin Harris, Committee Chair Charlie Rossetti and members Kenny Schultz, Mike Mitchell and Brian Bowerman. Department heads present were Librarian Joan Bachman, Park Director Stephen Spirck, Fire Chief Mitch McCorkle, and Municipal Court Chief Clerk Pauletta Welch.
City Business Manager, Street Department director, and Water Superintendent Butch Bartholomew was also in attendance. Bartholomew also coordinates lot splits, annexations and other matters for the Planning Commission, which no longer holds regular meetings. As the Building Inspector, Bartholomew, also issues building permits.
Absent was Committee member and Police Chief Mike Nelson.
Bartholomew, in his role as Street Department head, presented a balanced budget. He pointed out that his department has fewer employees than two years ago. He said the department is “ok for now [but on] a dangerous curve” regarding infrastructure improvements such as drainage, street signs and crosswalk painting. He stressed the long term savings from maintaining streets rather than allowing them to deteriorate to a point they would need to be rebuilt.
Bartholomew encouraged departments to “not be in competition with each other but to work together.” The Mayor emphasized how important good streets are for the citizens. It was stated several times during the meeting that no funds could come from the Street Department’s budget because in the last several years they had been underfunded.
Committee members suggested some of the Court’s shortfall could be lessened by sharing employees with the Police Department. Municipal Judge Casey Jones, who was present for part of the meeting, reminded them of why we have three branches of government and of the need to maintain a separation between the courts and police.
Jones did acknowledge the close link between the Police and Courts saying, “Police get the bad guys, then what do you do with them.” In a lighter quip, Jones jokingly noted the positive spin of an otherwise dismal economic environment – hard times mean more people in trouble which means more court income. Clerk Welch pointed out that forfeited bonds, amounting to from $500- $10,000 a month, go to the street department.
Because of public safety issues, the Fire and Police departments require special considerations in the budget process. Fire Chief McCorkel offered that cuts in spending might be found by reviewing travel and training expenses to offset his department’s estimated $25,000 shortfall. The Police budget shortfall is about $149,000. Police Chief Nelson was not present. The committee briefly discussed the high cost of health insurance for the force.
The health insurance issue was brought up again later in the evening by an audience member. West Fork has historically been generous with providing coverage for employee’s families. The mayor advised against removing employees families form coverage in the same year there will be no raises.
For Parks, the problems have risen from trying to satisfy citizens’ expatiations. Furnishing sports equipment, tennis court lighting, umpire costs, irrigation water, and of course the need to pay off bonds that financed building the park system were all matters of concern.
In the mist of the meeting when the doom and gloom rhetoric seemed to engulf the room like some horror movie fog, Chief McCorkel offered a spontaneous comment, “We’re in better shape than most towns our size. The public needs to be told in a nice way, they need to know we’re short on money – we can get through this”
Even in times of abundance, the budget process is not always easy. But when the game gets scarce or the crops dry up, things can get ugly. The next meetings will October 21 at 5:30. Meeting adjourned at 7:02.
Welcome to the small town budget meeting.