By Karen Hall
Raises for Lewisburg city employees are included in the 2012-2013 budget that councilmen discussed in a workshop Tuesday afternoon.
A 3 percent pay increase is proposed for employees who were not among the ones who got one of the controversial raises recently.
"We need to take care of our employees first," said Councilman Steve Thomas.
Police Chief Chuck Forbis agreed, and even asked councilmen to consider a 4 percent raise.
"We'll be criticized if we go over 2 percent," said Councilman Ronald McRady. "Let's hold it at 3 percent."
Councilman Robin Minor concurred, stating, "Stick at 3 percent."
"I think this time we're doing what we need to do," said Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr.
At the end of the two and a half hour workshop, Thomas summarized the group's work.
"I'm proud of how we've done," he said. "There's no tax increase, there's a raise for employees, and we've funded things that should have been done before."
Budget Director Donna Park was praised for the complete set of figures she had prepared based on last year's expenditures and revenues. Park noted that, so far, sales tax revenue was well above last year.
At the start of the session, proposed expenditures, including the raise for employees and every department's full wish list of new items, exceeded estimated revenues by more than $500,000.
"It could be raised by adding a few pennies to the tax rate," said Mayor Barbara Woods. Minor quickly opposed that, pointing out, "None of us around the table want to do that."
Gradually, department heads found ways to reduce their wish lists for next year's budget.
"I ain't got to have a brand new truck," said stormwater and codes Manager Buck Beard. "Just one big enough for me to get in and out of." The sum budgeted for the truck was therefore cut to a maximum of $18,000.
Recreation Director Jimmy Stitt couldn't compromise on the cost of the new HVAC unit for the Recreation Center, or on the tractor that is going to replace a 34-year-old model and pull a gang mower on the golf course as well as do heavy lifting, when necessary, with its front end.
Stitt could, however, cut the sum he'd requested for new fitness equipment, reduce the new golf carts from three to one, and eliminate new lobby furniture. He also agreed to replace only half of the floor drain for the indoor pools, and leave resurfacing the basketball court until next year.
Public works director Kenny Ring didn't need to budget for road salt - after the mild winter, he said all his salt storage areas were full.
An item in Police Chief Chuck Forbis' budget drew questions: "TV and DVD player for the City Court Judge's chambers." Once it was explained that this was not for the judge to be able to retire to his chambers and watch TV, but rather for playing DVDs that showed evidence, councilmen agreed to the expenditure request.
Fire Chief Larry Williams has asked for a new fire truck, but councilmen agreed to put $300,000 in an equipment reserve fund, and add to it to buy the fire truck next year.
Like people planning what they will do when they win the lottery, city councilmen are looking forward to selling the spec building, and using that money to remodel the police and fire department buildings.
"Should we remodel, or build a new hall?" asked Whitehead, stating that new construction can be cheaper than remodeling an old building. The police and fire departments could possibly share a new building on the city's Murray Farm land.
Two department heads have been asked to come back with the council with solutions, and cost estimates, for problems they pointed out.
At the Recreation Center, Stitt said, the front of the building is sagging, affecting the front doors to the point where "eventually the pressure will pop the glass right out."
Williams pointed out that nothing is budgeted for fire hydrants at the airport.
"We're spending money on hangars with no fire protection," he said. "We're over 800 feet from the water line."
"Bring us a price on that," urged Thomas.