Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

TOP STORY >>Cabot to see budget cuts

IN SHORT: City facing a $1 million shortfall as carryover from previous years keeps falling and may hinder police and firefighters.

Leader staff writer

A group of current council members, incoming council members and the incoming mayor met in Cabot Monday evening to discuss an $8.5 million draft budget that shows proposed spending at $1 million more than the expected revenue. But that wasn’t the biggest concern since the simple fix is to not give the department heads all they are asking for.

At least some of the 11 new firefighters with salaries and benefits of $548,000 and 12 new police officers with salaries and benefits of $456,000 are almost certain to be cut.

The real problem is the estimated end of the year cash carryover of $45,000 which is down from $95,000 a year ago, $597,000 in 2004 and $900,000 in 2003.

The remedy for the rapid decline is not as simple. The group can take no action until after the first of the year but the talk around the conference table at city hall was about personnel cuts and holding off on equipment purchases.

“There are going to be some hard decisions to make,” said Alderman Eddie Cook, who chaired the committee at the request of Mayor-elect Eddie Joe Williams.

“What has to be done, has to be done,” said Alderman-elect Ed Long.

In addition to Williams, Cook and Long, attending the meeting were City Clerk Marva Verkler, Finance Director Dale Walker, Aldermen Eddie Cook, Odis Waymack and Tom Armstrong and Aldermen-elect Becky Le-master, Lisa Brickell and Virgil Teague.

Williams said he wants the cash carryover for 2007 to be at least $300,000, which means every department will be required to set some of its budget aside as savings.

Walker, who has paid the city bills for four years, said it is essential for department heads to not only live within their budgets, they also must have a schedule for spending that fits with the city’s revenue stream.

Walker was hired after Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh won the office four years ago over former Mayor Joe Allman.
One of Stumbaugh’s first acts was to have the council strip Verkler of her bookkeeping duties and give them to Walker, who answered directly to him.

A few months later, when Verkler was helping her daughter-in-law after the delivery of her son, the mayor asked the council to also take away her check-writing duties and give them to Walker, saying it would expedite the bill-paying process. Verkler still had to sign the checks before they could be mailed. Verkler sued the mayor but later dropped her complaint.
The new mayor will ask the new council to restore Verkler’s duties and place Walker in her department.

Verkler and Walker have worked together some over the past year and both are agreeable to the proposed reassignment.
Last year’s budget contained $250,000 for overlaying streets. That money was reassigned to other projects and no streets were overlaid. Cook was especially concerned because he said street overlay money was the only part of the 2006 budget he was pleased with.

Verkler told the group that one of the reasons the street department is short of money is it no longer receives half of the $1.6 million collected from the county sales tax. In recent years, the money was rerouted, she said.

Stumbaugh said earlier this month that he would help Wil-liams during this transition period. He will present his 2007 budget on Dec. 1 knowing it will only be the working document for the new mayor and council.

The group decided to meet again on Dec. 11. Cook said all members of next year’s council are welcome to attend.
By state law, the budget is supposed to be adopted by Feb. 1, but the group agreed that if necessary, they would pass a resolution continuing the old budget until March 1.