SRO agreement in jeopardy

Friday, June 4, 2010
Councilman Robin Minor confers with Police Chief Chuck Forbis, advising residents overwhelmingly prefer speed limit enforcement instead of speed bumps. Forbis: "We can do it."

Lewisburg councilmen reached a consensus Tuesday on how $185,600 might be cut from spending to bring it in line with revenue of $8.46 million, but they've got $77,000 amount to go.

No final decision was made. In fact, councilmen voted 3-2 against taking the second of three steps toward adopting next year's budget, thereby ending any appearance of voting for an unbalanced budget.

During the non-voting workshop, followed by a voting session, two kinds of spending cuts emerged from the discussion.

One was summarized after the meeting by Councilman Ronald McRady.

The final cuts could be accomplished by not spending:

* $40,700 for a school resource officer at Lewisburg Middle School where former Police Chief Doug Alexander is paid by the city and through a county schools' agreement that the city might end. Alexander might be offered a day shift job in the patrol division since there's an open night shift position sought by a day shift policeman. Careful discussion was heard on this since Alexander's lawyer, Walter Bussart, and City Attorney Bill Haywood apparently struck an agreement on how to resolve an employment dispute when Alexander was returned to LMS from the chief's desk.

* $21,300 on Haywood for legal services, an idea raised by Councilman Odie Whitehed Jr. who said he received an offer from an attorney in Lincoln County to work for less. McRady broadened the topic, asking if the city needs a full-time attorney, or one on retainer. Police Chief Chuck Forbis said legal advice is needed at odd hours and Councilman Quinn Stewart said she wants police making good cases and not worrying about an attorney's hourly rate.

* $10,000 on Verizon mobile phone services. Verizon offered a plan charging seven cents a minute, indicating it could cut costs by $800 to $1,000 a month, City Manager Eddie Fuller said. "We've cut four" mobile phones from employees' use, Fuller said. "We've got close to 30." City Treasurer Connie Edde said two or three employees have abused the city phones assigned to them. Stewart suggested paying $20 toward employees' personal phones. She's on a plan with her husband. Whitehead said city employees are paid "good money," and phone use can be controlled.

* $5,000 from the Goats Music and More festival. More might have been cut, but Whitehead and Minor agreed bands draw crowds and the public likes music. "I've had a goat before," Whitehead said. "Let's have a good festival."

Discussion also indicated more money should be cut from the Recreation Department's budget. Minor and Whitehead focused on Department Director Guy Chambers and management skills.

"If we don't get a handle on this Rec Center, it's going to bankrupt this city," Whitehead said. "It all goes back to the management of the Rec Center."

Minor, citing his master's degree in management, suggested division managers' shifts be staggered with short periods of overlapping time. He contrasted that with a system of having managers working normal day hours only.

Examining the department's budget, Stewart said she didn't know why they need security at the center. "We have police officers." McRady said without security the center would be defaced by graffiti.

A day after the budget workshop, Chambers was reached on his personal cell phone and asked to speak to the points.

"I've got a pretty good idea" of what was said at the meeting, Chambers said. "We're going to have to trim our budget and we're going to do that. If the city council gives us some guidance, we'll try to follow that."

As for not having all division managers on-duty at the same time and those leaders working in direct operations of the center, he said, "We don't have a problem with it. We'll be more than willing to fill in when employees are out. We have done that in the past, but we've never put ourselves on a set schedule, but we have no problem with doing that.

"We understand we're in a recession, so we're trying to cut back."

"We don't want the Rec Center to put the city in such a shape that it could jeopardize anything financially, so we want to go ahead and do our part.

The city's golf course and Saddle Creek Golf Club were also discussed Tuesday. Minor reported he'd spoken with Eddie Roberts, owner of the private course east of town. Season passes were eliminated there, Minor said, relaying information of improved revenues.

Incentives for retirement were considered, but substantial savings aren't anticipated.

"Bad precedent," McRady said.

Whitehead returned to recreation management, noting, "It's up to the city manager to fire people."

Minor calculated what early retirement might save the city and Stewart said, "We don't have to do that. If we need to make someone go, we can do that."

Minor replied, "I'd rather cut programs, not people."

Whitehead: "If the money is not there, we can't spend money we don't have."

Unpaid taxes were also reviewed. Cosmolab owes nearly $156,000, McRady said. But it might not pay for several years because of bankruptcy Court protections. ABECO owes $25,800, and might be paying sooner, he said.

"If we could get that, we'd just about balance the budget," McRady said.

Meanwhile, the city's property tax rate will probably remain the same and some special called voting sessions may be scheduled to finalize the budget that's to start July 1.