Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

TOP STORY >>Sherwood revamping ’08 budget

By HEATHER HARTSELL
Leader staff writer

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman and her budget committee continue going over next year’s budget, which she called “the city’s livelihood.”

In the second of what will be at least three meetings, the budget committee, comprised of Hillman and Aldermen Butch Davis, Keith Rankin and Marina Brooks, met Tuesday afternoon to make adjustments to the city’s proposed 2008 general fund budget of an estimated $18.4 million after the panel heard the needs of numerous departments last week.

The Sherwood Police Department and the Sherwood Animal Shelter will be recipients of new vehicles in the coming year thanks to the decision of the Sherwood budget committee.

Police Chief Kel Nicholson asked for 10 new vehicles totaling $179,700 – two V-6 Dodge Chargers for K-9 cars and eight Chevrolet Impala patrol cars – that would replace their wornout counterparts.

The committee, however, could only see purchasing the eight Impalas and the equipment those vehicles would need in order to still provide needed items for other departments.

“The oldest ones need to go,” Rankin said of the more than 10-year-old patrol cars currently in use. “I’d love to be able to give them 20 cars if they wanted them.”

The oldest car on active patrol is a 1995 model and the newest ones, 2002 Impalas, already have over 100,000 miles.
Robin Breaux, animal services director, asked for a three-quarter-ton truck that would be equipped with a compartmentalized animal- transport unit.

The budget committee granted her request. The shelter will receive funds for a three-quarter-ton truck chassis and a stainless steel, six-unit carrier, as well as a few thousand dollars to replace their 1996 Jeep.

Cutting back the number of new vehicles for the police department gives the city about $105,000 for other expenses, money the panel learned will most likely need to be used to cover the city’s increasing health insurance costs.

Hillman said she received notice the end of last week from the Municipal League that the city’s health insurance could be going up.

“We’ll have to watch and see with the changes,” she said, “but we don’t want to be their guinea pig.”

The group was in agreement that changing insurance providers isn’t something you do in two months.

“But we owe it to the employees to explore their insurance options,” Hillman said. “If it (the cost) continues to escalate, employees may have to start paying, but that would be down the road changes; they may not have to, we don’t know right now,” the mayor said.

She told the aldermen that when insurance costs have increased in the past, the city absorbed the costs for the individual.
If Sherwood’s insurance costs do increase, Hillman said the city would continue to absorb the individuals’ cost as well as absorb half of the increase for the family plans, leaving the employee to cover the other half.

“We would split it 50/50,” she said. “There’s a good chance they (insurance costs) will go down in July – we’ve had extremely high claims this year,” she added.

The budget committee also decided the funds were not available to grant Fire Chief Frank Hill’s requested $169,553 to add one-and-a-half more fire department staff.

“We’re at an ISO 2. What would the city and citizens benefit from it (the one and a half personnel increase)?” Rankin asked.
The committee decided to review his request again when planning the 2009 budget, but did not commit to it.

However, the sanitation department will receive their requested knuckleboom truck at a cost of $110,000 and Public Works will also get one of their two requested leaf trucks.