Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

TOP STORY >> Budget in Cabot shaping up for '06

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

As Cabot Police Chief Jackie Davis sat down at a conference table at city hall Monday evening to begin justifying the budget he had submitted for council approval, Alderman Eddie Cook leaned forward in his seat and proclaimed a loud “no.”

“Just practicing,” he told Davis, but Cook never used the word again. The council’s budget committee had nothing but praise for Davis’ department, and if they disapproved of the expenditures he proposes for 2006, they didn’t show it.

Davis’ presentation came about midway in a budget committee meeting that started at 4 p.m. and lasted until 8:30 p.m.
Each department head took a turn explaining what they need and why from a budget with a format the committee is hopeful will be standardized and completely understandable by the time it is submitted later this month to the full council. One purpose for the marathon meeting was to work out the glitches in the format.

The full council must accept the new budget by Feb. 1, but the budget committee, chaired by Alderman David Polantz, is hopeful that it will be approved well in advance of that deadline. A second meeting to discuss the budget has been set for 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The $7.4 million operating budget Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh submitted for council approval by the Dec. 1 deadline, is about $4 million less than the 2005 budget, not because revenue is down but because the water department, the city’s biggest money-maker, will be turned over to a commission on Jan. 1.

This year’s budget is only for the general fund and street fund. If water and sewer were included as they have been in the past, the budget would be almost $13 million compared to $11.4 million in 2005. The increase is largely due to last year’s increase in water rates that have generated about $1.5 million in revenue not needed for debt or other expenses.

The police chief is asking for almost $2.5 million, about $400,000 more than in the 2005 budget. Part of the increase is for five new positions — three police officers and two dispatchers .

Davis proposes creating a captains position that would be equivalent to an assistant police chief, adding one lieutenant and an additional patrol officer.

He is hopeful that adding two dispatchers will help the high turnover rate (50 percent so far in 2005) that plagues his department.
“The dispatchers’ workload has become phenomenal,” he said, adding that in addition to dispatching officers, the work includes answering phone calls from the public and tending prisoners in the jail.

“Five years ago, you had mostly drunks. Now the majority are violent criminals,” he said.
The committee suggested that hiring more than two dispatchers would help and Davis responded that the dispatch room wasn’t big enough for more.

The committee suggested in-creasing the salary which starts at $9 an hour.

Peggy Moss, director of human resources, responded “If you in-crease the dispatcher, you’re going to risk getting it too close to the police officer” that has a starting salary of $10.41.

Davis agreed that would create problems within the department because the officers go to the police academy and they work the streets, a more dangerous job.

Davis also is asking for $50,000 for an automated finger printing system that would connect to the state system and ultimately to the FBI system.

The system would give identifications from fingerprints within 20 minutes, he told the committee and the committee didn’t say “no.”
Fire Chief Phillip Robinson proposes a budget of $1.7 million which includes adding three firefighters and promoting six firefighters to lieutenant. He told the committee that he would like to start acquiring more comfortable gear for his firefighters, but not in 2006.

Robinson’s request for a new fire station and truck in the area of Magness Creek and Greystone will likely remain unfunded in 2006.
Robinson told the committee that he believes land for the station will be donated, but even then the station alone would cost a minimum of $1 million. But unless it is built soon, the city could risk higher insurance rates because that area is not adequately covered. “This is the year we’ve got to find the land and get this thing started,” Polantz said.

Public Works, headed by Jim Towe, will be cut in half as of Jan. 1, 2006, after city voters approved the creation of a Water and Wastewater Commission to run those two departments. Towe’s budget was the largest last year. This year total expenses are down to $358,562. He is asking for two new trucks to replace two that he says are not likely to last another year.

Towe also appealed to the committee to restore his salary to one that he said would be more equitable for the three years of dedicated service he has given the city. Last year his salary was about $60,000. In the proposed budget it was cut to $50,000.

Since the city engineer, which is under the public works director, will be paid $55,650 in 2006 if the budget passes as proposed, Towe said he deserved at least that amount.

The committee agreed and the salary was changed.

Alderman Odis Waymack, who does not serve on the committee but attended the meeting, said he believed Towe could do the work of the city engineer, since no city engineer on staff with the city has ever used his engineer’s credentials on a city job.

Towe conceded the truth of Waymack’s statement, but he said in 2006, the city engineer would design five, one-lane bridges that are to be constructed on First Street using bond money secured by a one-cent tax approved by city voters.