City revenues fall short of needs next fiscal year

By Staff
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
A proposed record budget for fiscal 2007-08 with projected revenues totaling $9.56 million is in the hands of Hartselle's City Council.
The budget was presented to the council for its review at a work session that lasted more than three hours Aug. 17.
Projected expenditures for operations totaled $9.65 million, leaving a $91,581 deficit. Last year's budget was about 8 percent less at $8.56 million.
The largest revenue increase is expected to come from TVA in lieu of tax payments, up $220,000 from $680,000. This is the result of the last payment being made on the Mallard Fox Industrial Park in fiscal 2006-07. Other significant revenue increases include: sales tax, $150,000; ad valorem (property) tax, $49,000; and interest earned, $55,000.
The proposed budget includes a 3 percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) and a merit raise for all eligible employees. The total required for these salary adjustments, including retirement, Social Security and Workers Compensation costs, is nearly $200,000.
Fire department staffing
Most department heads asked for level funding from last year. Fire Chief Steve Shelton, however, asked for four additional firefighters. Council members said the lack of revenue prevents the change.
Shelton said the national standard is for each on-call fire truck to be manned by four firefighters. Currently, the city's two fire stations are staffed by two and three personnel. Shelton said that 90 percent of the time both stations have only four firefighters on duty at the same time.
"If we could add four more we would at least be moving in the right direction," he said.
Council president K T. (Kenny) Thompson asked Shelton if he could come up with the $161,00 needed to hire four more firefighters by making cuts in his budget requests.
"No," he replied. "There's no way I could come up with that kind of money."
When asked by Councilman Samie Wiley how many house fire calls the fire department has made this year, Shelton said he have to check the record before he could provide the number.
"We expect to respond to 1,600 to 1,800 emergency calls by the end of this fiscal year," Shelton said,
A request from Shelton and Police Chief Ron Puckett for permission to open up new senior patrol and senior firefighter positions was also set aside because no money is available. Both said they have five staff members who qualify for advancement to that rank. It was estimated that it would take about $25,000 in the first year to implement the request.
"I too, would like to see senior grades in place in all of our departments," said Mayor Dwight Tankersley, "but I can't see taking away a COLA for of our employees in order to do that."
Tankersley said Terry Acuff, the city's grant consultant, is preparing paperwork for an application to seek a federal matching grant to help pay the salaries of new firefighters. "We can pursue this type of funding and lobby to get it approved," he said.
"Conservative" projections
Tankersley said the new budget is conservative in its revenue estimates.
"We passed a deficit budget last year and it's going to come in OK. You could go back on the revenue side and come up with enough to make it a balanced budget but I'd rather stay on the conservative side when it came to predicting how much money you're going to have to spend."
When council members where asked if they agreed in general with the budget draft that was presented all but Mark Mizell indicated they were.
"The only way I see to balance it is to cut expenses somewhere," Mizell said. "At some point we're going to have to cut or there won't be anything left with which to cut."

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