04/11/11 — Pikeville looks to trim costs

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Pikeville looks to trim costs

By Gary Popp
Published in News on April 11, 2011 1:46 PM

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Pikeville Mayor Johnny Weaver says running a small town is becoming more and more difficult, with residents and elected officials caught between the need for services and rising costs.

PIKEVILLE -- Johnny Weaver is a lifelong resident of Pikeville who became its mayor in 2009. He says operating a small town is complicated but that Pikeville's elected officials work hard to satisfy the people who put them in office.

Weaver has seen many changes in and around the town over the years, especially the development of large subdivisions around the town and the building of a four-lane U.S. 117 just a few miles west of the town.

Like most small towns, Pikeville's chief problems are financial. Most of the town's property tax revenue goes to pay for its police department, leaving little money to be spent on other amenities. Some residents believe the town should disband the department and rely on the Wayne County Sheriff's Office for law enforcement protection. Others like having police officers on duty inside the town limits and are adamantly opposed to such a change.

"We are spending pretty much 100 percent of what we take in on property taxes to the police department," Weaver said. "Where do we have money to buy a tractor? Or where do we have money to buy a mower? It is tough."

Discussions have included a recent public forum with Sheriff Carey Winders and County Manager Lee Smith. During the meeting, many residents openly expressed their desire to keep police department intact.

Weaver said he has been assured by county officials that Pikeville would receive coverage from the Sheriff's Office if Pikeville officials decided to terminate it's own police and not contract services from the county.

Many of the residents said they are comforted by having their own police and the ability to form bonds with the officers and regularly see patrol vehicles on the streets, services that are, typically, not expected if the Sheriff's Office is the only law enforcement agency in the area.

The Pikeville Town Board has begun its annual budget process.

For Weaver and the town's commissioners there are few options to generate revenue to provide the services Pikeville residents expect without dipping into the town's reserve fund.

"We don't really have a lot of places to go," Weaver said. "We could raise taxes, but we have got to do everything possible before we even talk about that. We will cut everywhere we can -- to the point that it hurts."

Weaver said Pikeville officials have some experience at finding ways to cut costs.

"What keeps this town running is having a good board that is cost conscience, and I am fortunate that we do," he said. "We do everything we can to save money. We don't have any lack of efficiency."

"To give you an example of how frugal this board is, we were spending $3,000 a year for a fireworks display on July 4. We cut that out. You say, 'Well, that's pretty.' Well it is pretty, but it is $3,000 against $24,000 (in the General Fund) so it is not so pretty, and it does appear (the board) is trying to do a good job with the people's money," Weaver said.

To bridge a budget shortfall last year, the commissioners by borrowing against the General Fund. Later in the year, the town made up in part for the loan by choosing not to replace a maintenance position that went vacant in December. It hasn't had much of an effect as yet but when mowing becomes necessary, it could become an issue, Weaver said.

Weaver said the town will attempt to meet the needs created by the vacancy by hiring temporary labor, but hiring a full-time replacement will still be an option.

Weaver said Pikeville is in the same position as many other small towns that are taking similar actions.

"(Other towns) all look at it, like, this is what I have and this is what I have to work within. And they try to cut, cut, cut and live within it," Weaver said.

Weaver said the small cuts are crucial because much of what is included in the budget are fixed costs.

"We only control certain things," he said. "With water and sewer, we don't make any money off of it. We just break even."

Weaver said public utilities are no longer the sources of revenue they once were.

"Years ago little towns like Pikeville made money off of electrical, water and sewer, but the rates have gotten so high we can't make any money off of it."

The rates paid to ElectriCites are, essentially, the highest they have been due to the contractual payment schedule, and the rates for water and sewer have risen to cover the costs of the town's relatively new water treatment facility, Weaver pointed out.