Russellville council looking to make budget cuts

By Staff
Melissa Cason
The Russellville City Council is looking to cut expenses in order to balance the 2010 fiscal year budget.
The council held a work session Monday afternoon with all department heads present to see what can be cut in order to lower costs for the city.
According to the projected sales tax revenue, the city will bring in $3,463,205 in the next year without a sales tax increase of one percent. However, should the council decide to increase the sales tax in Russellville, the city's tax revenue will rise to $4,517,607.
Since the council has not instituted a sales tax increase, the council and all departments were working with the lower number.
The council first looked to the police department for answers on what can be cut.
Police Chief Chris Hargett told the council that the budget given to him by Mayor Troy Oliver already decreased his department's budget by $29,000.
While the department's overall budget at this point is $1,940,375, most of that money is tied to salaries, retirement, FICA, Medicare, and other required expenses.
"I've only got about $314,000 to operate on for the entire year," Hargett said.
Hargett said the department has lost one officer and will be losing another officer soon.
"All I can really suggest is that we not replace one of the officers we are losing," Hargett said.
Hargett said he had rather hire to replace both of the officers, but hiring only one replacement is an option, which would save the city approximately $50,000. But, not hiring to replace either will stretch the department thin. The two new resignations make five officers total who have left the department in the last two years. Those positions have not been replaced at this point.
"If we don't replace either of the officers, we'll have a shortage on the shifts and I consider that a safety issue," Hargett said.
Hargett gave the shooting that occurred a few weeks ago as an example.
"If we'd had less officers on the street that night, the outcome could have been very different," Hargett said.
Mayor Troy Oliver reminded the council that if they decided not to hire a replacement for either of these open slots, the city would have a reduction of service to the citizens.
"If you give up something here, you'll end up paying the price somewhere else probably in overtime," Oliver said.
Councilman Jeff Masterson said he was not in favor of cutting patrol officers from the street.
The next department to look their budget was the fire department. Fire Chief Joe Mansell said his budget was also cut before he received his proposed budget and was asked to make cuts anywhere possible.
"We were already short $67,000 from last year," Mansell said.
Mansell said he felt he could decrease the overtime by $5,000 and cut travel and education to $8,300.
Most of Mansell's $1.2 million budget pays payroll, FICA, Medicare and other necessary expenses.
The Parks and Recreation Department also offered a few deductions.
Director Chad Sears said they could cut $3,000 from maintenance, $1,000 from pool chemicals and $500 from dues and subscriptions.
Masterson questioned whether to keep the after-school tutoring program offered at the Chucky Mullins Center since the school system offers after school tutoring. Deducting the program would save the city approximately $30,000 per year.
Councilman Lanny Hubbard said cutting the tutoring program would create hardships on the families of the students they serve.
"It's time for tough decisions," Masterson said. "I don't want to cut anything, but we may have to."
Councilman Gary Cummings proposed that each department find a way to cut 10 percent off the budget.
"We are going about this the wrong way," Cumming said. "If we don't have the money, we are going to have to make cuts."
All the other council members were opposed to having each department cut 10 percent off from their department.
All department heads agreed that they couldn't make that kind of cuts without compromising services offered by the city.
In the end, the council made no decisions regarding the budget.
Council members split 3-3 last week on a vote that would have added a one-cent sales tax in the city. Masterson, Oliver and William Nale voted in favor of the tax.
David Grissom, Cummings and Hubbard voted against the increase.
If the proposed tax increase were instituted, 38.33 percent would be used by the school system with the balance being used in the city's general fund.
The council members who voted against the increase did so, they said, because the city had not looked into any alternative plans.
The item could once again be placed on the agenda for the Oct. 19 meeting.
One area resident has turned to his own way of letting his feelings be known about a possible tax increase.
Milford "Mousey" Brown has built two signs for his Lawrence Street home. One reads "No new tax" while the other says "No to more taxes."
"I don't have anything against the Russellville school system or the teachers or anybody else," said Brown, 65.
"I know things are bad but I can't see this as a way to fix it. It will hurt the people. You think one-cent is not that big of a deal but over a year's time it adds up."