Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

TOP STORY >>Cabot funds running low

Leader staff writer

Unexpected revenue from the state made it possible for city workers to be paid in Cabot this week where on Monday the general fund bank account contained only about half the $90,000 needed to make payroll. Several new city council members who are working on the budget learned about the shortfall during a Monday night meeting. City Clerk Marva Verkler said she and Finance Director Dale Walker were working on the problem but didn’t really know what to do. Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh, who will not be returning to office in January, was in Florida, she said.

Then, on Tuesday morning, the city received a check from the state for $128,000 that would cover the payroll on Dec. 15 as well as part of the one on Dec. 22. A direct deposit from the state for about $200,000 in sales tax is expected on Dec. 22, Verkler said, so paying city employees for the rest of the year is not a concern. The carryover into 2007 should be about $45,000, about half the amount needed for payroll.

Money has been tight for the city all year. Walker has said the problem is not so much that department heads haven’t held to their budgets but rather that they spent money before it actually came in. He has asked that the department heads be given a spending schedule. But Mayor-elect Eddie Joe Williams is asking that they spend less. He will require that some money (at least four percent this year) be set aside to build up a reserve for emergencies. Verkler, who was stripped of almost all her duties when Stumbaugh became mayor, will once again be in charge of paying the bills in 2007. She says it is essential that department heads curtail spending. For example, the police department tries to buy three new cars every year.

“The city owns 36 police cars now,” Verkler said. “Thirty six is enough.” Virgil Teague, one of the new council members agrees that the council should at least ask Police Chief Jackie Davis to hold off on purchases for a time. He said, perhaps the money would be better used on street repairs. The new council members also discussed proposed new hires and new equipment for the fire department. Chief Phil Robinson wants 11 new firefighters, including three battalion chiefs, and a ladder truck that will cost an estimated $750,000.

The city already has one ladder truck and few buildings that are more than two-stories high or large enough to need a ladder to extend far enough to put out a fire in the center, Verkler told the new council members. Walker’s numbers showed that if the council holds spending at the current level by making no major capital improvements and hiring no new employees, the estimated $7.5 million in expected revenue will be sufficient for 2007 even with the 4 percent in savings the new mayor has asked for.

The budget meeting will likely be the last of the year. The new council members said they would rather wait until they have taken office to proceed. At that time, they will hold several meetings, including at least one when department heads will be required to justify their spending requests. The new council members said they want simple answers without a “dog and pony show.” “Check you dog and pony at the door,” said Lisa Brickell.