[Nameplate] Fair ~ 65°F  
High: 68°F ~ Low: 50°F
Thursday, Apr. 17, 2014

Finance Committee dissects Blytheville budget

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Blytheville City Council's Finance and Purchasing Committee spent 2 1/2 hours Monday night dissecting the proposed budgets of seven city departments, hearing department leaders' offered cuts and arguments to keep certain items.

General Administration is now proposing to spend $710,412 before the $1,856,667 in back payroll taxes, which is being paid by a temporary 1-cent tax, making the item's expenditure/revenue a wash. Before Mayor James Sanders made an approximately 4 percent cut, the 2013 proposed GA expenditures added up to $743,212 when excluding the large IRS line item.

After cutting 3 percent, Chief Mike Carney's proposed Fire Department expenditures dropped from $2,456,626 to $2,378,948.

The police department's proposed budget went the other direction. It rose nearly 7 percent from an originally proposed $2,868,380.40 to $3,066,013 after loans totaling 162,826.00 were not accounted for in the original submission. The Police Department is using part of its share of the police and fire tax for the loan payments.

The proposed Corrections Department budget decreased nearly 2 percent from $805,336 to $794,696. The biggest bump from last year's $433,000 budget is a projected $300,000 for 2011/2012 jail fees. Those fees are in addition to the $388,140 proposed this year for jail fees.

Animal Control's budget stayed unchanged at $85,724. Code Enforcement's proposed budget also remained the same at $138,945, as did Communications' at $265,318.

Overall Monday night, the departments offered a net increase of more than 1 percent from $7,363,541 to $7,440,046, according to Councilman Tommy Abbott, who chairs the Finance Committee.

Police Chief Ross Thompson's five budgets -- the BPD, Corrections, Animal Control, Code Enforcement and Communications -- combined for a net increase of approximately 4.5 percent, changing from $4,163,703 to $4,350,686, Abbott said.

Earlier this month, the Finance Committee asked each department to trim their proposed budgets by 7 percent and submit an alternative plan.

Abbott said he preferred that department heads make the necessary cuts because they know their needs better than the City Council, which must approve a budget by Feb. 1.

Monday night, Abbott used a projector to put up the numbers so the audience could see changes to the figures as cuts/increases were being made to the proposed budgets. For the first time ever, residents were able to see the changes -- and the new bottom line figure -- as changes were made.

"This is not a final draft but is still subject to Finance Committee approval and ratification by the full Council," Abbott said. "We will open for a final discussion and opportunity for changes on Thursday, Jan. 31."

General Administration

The Greater Blytheville Area Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Blytheville, the Mississippi County Union Mission and the Great River Charitable Clinic all received positive news Monday night.

Even after the 4 percent cut, the proposed General Administration budget still includes the Union Mission ($4,000) and Great River Charitable Clinic ($2,500) as Sanders argued the two nonprofits involve health and safety issues. Main Street Blytheville's funding increased, from the originally proposed $18,000, back to the 2012 figure, $36,000. Sanders said Main Street is key to the city's economic development plan and those funds help pay for the director's salary, someone already in place. The Chamber's proposed funding remained the same at $13,500, but city leaders indicated the organization may also receive the $27,000 that it was shorted in 2011 and 2012 combined.

Sanders said he penciled in the $13,500 figure because the city was unable to meet the agreed upon $30,000 in 2011 and $27,000 in 2012. Each year, the city and Chamber enter into an agreement, something they haven't done yet in 2013. Officials indicated the $27,000 could be added in with the $13,500 in the 2013 contract, bringing the total to $40,500 if that happens.

"We're trying to prevent digging ourselves in a hole continuing to place these amounts on here and not being able to meet the obligations, and we haven't been able to," Sanders said. "Again, like I said before, we're moving forward, and if we're able to maintain the $13,500 and still look back at the $27,000, we'll try to meet those obligations."

Councilman Kevin Snow said the city wants to make good on everything it agreed to do in the past.

Will that put the Chamber in the budget for $40,500?

"No, it will put the Chamber in the budget for $13,500 (with an agreement) that we're going to do our best to take care of the arrears as well," Abbott said.

Abbott added he believes the city will put itself "in a position, that by years end, you'll get the $40,500."

Meanwhile, Councilman R.L. Jones peppered Sanders with questions on salaries, which increased from $169,039 in 2012 to $201,540 proposed for 2013. Jones questioned the need for two secretaries at the mayor's office, and Sanders noted there is only one. The mayor said there is a receptionist and a secretary who handles the day-to-day operations. He added auditors have said there needs to be internal controls and the current personnel allows for that.

Abbott said Council members should have the discussion at another time; Monday night was the departments' opportunities to make cuts.

"Chairman, you asking all of us to vote on this and I want some answers on this here before I can vote sound mind on this," Jones said.

The salaries' line was unchanged.

Sanders did make cuts to equipment replacement, gas and oil, maintenance and repair to vehicles and others and building repairs. Officials also moved the Ritz Civic Center ($45,000) from General Administration to Parks and Recreation.

Like all the other budgets, General Administration was hit hard by an increase in group insurance, which went up about 74 percent in that department and increased about 26 percent in other departments, according to Abbott.

Other fixed increases were the addition of the retirement pay line ($35,122) and going from $500 to $55,000 in dues and subscriptions. Abbott noted that line includes Municipal League insurance for the GA department only, something that was paid last year too, but not budgeted for in 2012.

Fire Department

Carney made several cuts to his original proposed budget.

Carney lowered the equipment replacement from $109,000 to $64,000, taking out one of the two trucks he is proposing this year. He also eliminated a $25,000 generator that would fully power Station 1 in the event of a power outage. Currently, the fire department only has small generators at each of the three stations.

Carney also removed the digital radios that he requested, saying he may wait until the fourth quarter to ask for them.

The department did keep some increases, including going from $42,511 in loans last year to $180,516 this year because of the fire truck it purchased in 2012. Carney also kept the increase in the building maintenance, which was $25,000 in 2012 and expected to be $48,000 this year.

Station 1 needs a new roof, the chief said.

"That's something we've got to have this year," Carney said. "We put it off as long as we could. We're as far as we can go on patching; we need a new roof. That accounts for about $41,000."

Meanwhile, Carney budgeted for 38 employees and he is currently operating with 33. He wants to go back to 11 firemen per shift, noting in previous years that number was 13 per shift.

Carney said his men did a great job last year, at times, working with a skeleton crew.

The board seemed pleased with Carney's cuts.

"It's over $73,000 in cuts so I think that's pretty good, chief," Snow said. "Hopefully, later in the year we can come back and say, OK, we actually have the funds to get some of this stuff. That's part of amending the budget to allow that, to see how we're doing."

Police Department

An originally omitted $162,826 in loans was the major reason for the increase in the new proposed police department budget. Being paid out of the police and fire tax fund, the loans were for FCC-mandated radio system upgrades and new patrol cars.

Thompson said the police car fleet is in good shape now, and maintenance costs have decreased because of the new patrol units.

Also, a $35,000 increase in pension line has thrown off the budget, according to the chief.

As he has for the past several years, Thompson has budgeted for 45 officers and eight clerical positions -- proposed salaries that add up to $1,856,004. Total personnel expenses, after corrections to payroll taxes and pension fund, make up $2,560,739 of the $3,066,013 proposed budget.

Thompson noted his department usually operates with around 40 officers and it hasn't reached the budgeted number in quite some time. At one time, there were 58 officers on staff, he said.

Thompson added his department finished well under budget last year, when it projected $2,950,328 in expenditures.

The Finance Committee is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Thursday. The board plans to discuss the proposed budgets of the wastewater department and Waterworks. Parks and recreation is also on the agenda, including Thunder Bayou Golf Links, Delta Gateway Museum, Blytheville Youth Sportsplex and city parks and pools.

mbrasfield@couriernews.net

Related subjects

© 2014 Blytheville Courier News