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City moves to cut budget

Mayor Bill Godbold swung a big budget ax Tuesday as herecommended slashing planned vehicle, equipment and machinerypurchases from new year spending plans and rejecting any increasesin the recreation department’s budget.

Godbold, absent from last Tuesday’s meeting due to illness, madethe suggestions in an effort to reduce a projected deficit of over$1 million for the new fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. At lastweek’s meeting, city officials were looking at approximately $8.3million in requested spending but only around $7 million inprojected rejected.

“This will bring it down to where we want it,” Godbold saidabout the city’s spending plan.

Additional spending cuts last night included $105,000 for pavingin city wards, $35,000 for ditch repairs and a number of minorreductions in several budget areas. The board also followed a Ward4 Alderman Bob Massengill suggestion for 5 percent across the boardcuts in all other areas, excluding salaries and supportappropriations.

“We’ve got several hundred thousand we’ve got to cut,”Massengill said. “This would get some of it.”

City Clerk Iris Rudman said the mayor’s recommendations wouldmake a “sizable” reduction of around $700,000. With the additional5 percent reductions, she indicated the city would be closer tobeing able to balance the budget.

Prior to next Tuesday’s board of aldermen meeting, Rudman saidshe will add back a projected 29 percent increase in healthinsurance premiums. Also to be considered are pay raises for cityemployees.

Another part of Godbold’s recommendation was for aldermen tolook at 3 and 5 percent pay raises. The mayor said after themeeting that would include elected officials, but he suggested theprospects of any raises were uncertain.

“I think that with the cuts we’re having to make, I don’t thinkwe’ll consider any raises,” Godbold said.

However, he said the board needed an idea of how much the raiseswould cost and could remove them next week.

“We’ll take it out that time,” Godbold said.

Godbold’s equipment, machinery and vehicle purchase reductions,among other area cuts, would mean no new police vehicleacquisitions, no new computer for the tax office and waterdepartment and no painting of elevated water tanks in theindustrial park. The only item saved was an estimated $30,000purchase of a manufactured office as a new city barn.

Several aldermen and city officials questioned the reductions,but Godbold said purchase possibilities were not being abandoned.He said the city does not receive most of its property taxes untilJanuary, and the purchases could be considered then if revenueexceeds expectations.

“We can bring them up later in the year,” Godbold said, “but toget under this budget, let’s take it out now.”

City Tax Collector Pat Duckworth sought to save her office’scomputer purchase from the cut. She said the current computer wentout at tax time last year, and she doubted it could be repairedagain.

Rudman, saying her office has “the oldest computer in thecourthouse,” said the board could hold a special meeting andapprove an emergency computer purchase if it crashes. She saidemergency purchases are not governed by budget writingrestrictions.

Aldermen removed $105,000 budgeted for ward paving, but $300,000set aside for downtown street paving following two major water andsewer projects was not touched.

Also, an estimated $232,000 for the purchase of additional landfor the existing industrial park was not included. Massengill saidthe property owners are not pushing to carry out an option the cityobtained last year, and the Industrial Development Foundation maypursue an option on the property.

“I don’t think we need to put anything into it at this point,”Massengill said.

While not mentioning any specific areas, Ward 3 Alderman theRev. Jerry L. Wilson repeatedly questioned the city’s “charity”contributions to various local agencies. He suggested those couldbe cut to better help the city.

“Our department heads are suffering, and we’re giving moneyaway. I don’t understand,” Wilson said.

Alderman at large Les Bumgarner, however, defended the city’ssupport of organizations such as the library, chamber of commerce,hospital and civil defense. He said city indirectly helps people bycontributing to those agencies.

“It’s going back into something taxpayers benefit from,”Bumgarner said.

Massengill and Bumgarner also spoke about a hiring freeze incity government, although a freeze was not expected to have a bigimpact on the current budget situation. When there is a vacancy,Bumgarner said the board on a case-by-case basis needed to considerwhether a replacement is necessary.

“I think we’re going to have to get a little leaner,” Bumgarnersaid.

Godbold said he disagreed with the freeze suggestion. He saiddepartment heads know their situations and should be able to hirereplacements when needed.

City officials are expected to review and possibly finalizebudget plans during next week’s regular board meeting. A publichearing is scheduled for Aug. 27 and aldermen are targeting Sept. 3as the day to approve the new year budget.