Council cuts budgets, keeps expense fund
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 27, 2010 1:46 PM
Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Allen, right, talks to Mayor Al King during a budget work session held at City Hall Wednesday. The council decided not to increase taxes but must now come up with $1 million to make up for the loss of revenue a hike would have provided.
Members of the Goldsboro City Council seemed to agree Wednesday that a 5-cent tax increase was not in the best interest of local families.
But when it came to just what it would take to come up with the roughly $1 million needed as a counter-measure should they vote down the recommended hike, there was some dissension.
Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Allen suggested that the $22,800 set to be allocated for "board member expenses" this year -- that figure does not include the $5,000 set aside for pre-meeting barbecue and pizza for the council or the $9,000 stipend each, other than Mayor Al King, who makes $11,400, earns for his service on the board -- be removed from the budget.
"You're asking everybody else to cut something, so you should cut something, too," Allen said. "I want to take it out. I think if you're asking everybody else to give, we should give."
"I agree," Michael Headen replied.
But former Planning Director-turned-council member Donnie Chatman said he was not willing to take "a 25 percent cut."
Bob Waller agreed.
"I think it ought to be an individual thing," he said. "Some people might want to do it, some may not."
And then there was the Rev. Charles Williams who, in a stern tone, said to "leave it as is."
"Nobody here is asking for a raise," he said.
Former police chief Jackie Warrick also voted against the cut, leaving City Manager Joe Huffman with the task of either recommending that funding the $3,000 per council member and $4,800 for the mayor, come from the general fund or coming up with another cut to replace it.
The 2010-11 budget will likely be voted on at one of the council's June meetings.
And the public's voice has certainly been heard during the process thus far -- several council members said they would not support a tax increase after receiving a string of calls from concerned constituents.
But to make the plan work now that Huffman's recommended hike seems to be off the table, "tough decisions" had to be made, the mayor said.
Among them was using money set aside for the Civic Center to make the $480,465 debt payment for the Paramount Theatre.
"I believe people would rather us take that money that is sitting there and put it into the Paramount and pay for the Paramount then they would us raise their taxes," Allen said. "I think that's a wise use of the money."
And a number of departments -- Building and Traffic, Planning, Sanitation and more -- were told to find a way to cut an additional $10,000 from their plans.
Police Chief Tim Bell and fire Chief Gary Whaley were asked to cut $25,000 in 2010-11, a request that drew concern from Whaley.
"I know everybody has got to cut, and I'm OK with doing that," he said. "But if I were to cut $25,000 ... I don't know where we're going to find it. ... We can do it, but I'm going to be right back in here if something major happens saying, 'I've got to have that money.'"
And the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. was told that it would not receive funding for the Homebuyer's Assistance Program or the South Center Street Project -- measures that would save $30,000.
The latest version of the budget also still includes increases for water and sewer service -- 15 percent and 5 percent respectively -- and a new recommendation to increase the fee for trash pickup by $2 a month.
And the employee Christmas party and merit pay system were eliminated; salaries and vacant-positions frozen.
"This is not an easy topic we're talking about it. We've already done some real, real hard cutting," King said. "We're getting to a point now where it's really going to hurt. Anything that we cut today is going to hurt somebody. ... Whatever we do, there is going to be someone out there who is not going to like it."
Several local non-profits, however, got some good news, as the board voted to fund the Chamber of Commerce, Arts Council, WATCH and county Museum at the same level the city did last year.
Bob Waller seemed happy about the decision -- particularly as it relates to WATCH.
"If we're going to fund any non-profit, that should be the only one," he said. "I wish we could fund every one of them ... but there is one of these that is life and death to a lot of individuals. And that is WATCH."
The budget process began earlier than usual this year, as discussions about potential construction of a recreation center downtown prompted the city management team to look into the feasibility of doing so.
And as a vote on the future of the project approached -- the board swayed 4-3 in favor of not moving forward with plans that had seen more than $1 million already invested -- Huffman informed council members that he believed a tax increase would be necessary "with or without a recreation center."
To date, he has called the plan a "bare bones budget" several times and has had to recommend cuts in almost every area.
Of the $2.4 million requested for capital outlay projects -- from 10 new police cars to laptops for code enforcement officer -- only $357,000 would be funded, should the council adopt the budget as is.
And now that the council has opted to add to his projected allocations for those non-profits -- and voted against taking a cut, themselves -- Huffman still has work left to do.