Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

TOP STORY >>Squeezing budget may allow hiring

Leader staff writer

A scheduled meeting of the budget committee of the Cabot City Council was called off Monday night because the budget manager was on vacation and not available to explain to members where the money to pay the salaries of three new firefighters would come from.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams cut eight city positions after he took office in January, including one from his staff, and said then that anyone who resigned from the police and fire departments would not be replaced.

Pressure from firefighters and the public has helped change his mind, but where will the money (about $150,000) to hire the firefighters come from? The mayor has already answered that question. More cuts are likely.

Without using the phrase “layoffs” Williams said last week he would have to trim the budgets of other city departments to pay for the firefighters.

“All departments will become stakeholders in solving this problem,” he said. Figures provided by Dale Walker, the budget manager, showed that 88 percent of the budget is salaries and benefits and that is too much, he said.

The firefighters say that since three have resigned and two have been deployed, their numbers are so low that only two are on staff at each of the three stations. And if they answer a fire call, they won’t have enough backup to keep them safe. Williams says that since all three fire stations respond to fires it is unlikely that the first to respond would not have sufficient backup. Still, he said he is allowing Fire Chief Phil Robinson to hire the firefighters he says he needs.

The city was behind on paying its bills and owed about $1 million when he took office, Williams said. Laying off eight employees cut about $500,000 from the 2007 budget. But the mayor said he is determined to build enough reserve that, at the very least, he won’t have to worry about making payroll in the months with five paydays.