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Council prepares more cuts to budget

The city’s 1.5 mill tax-hike, $29 million budget proposed for 2021 remains too high for City Council’s taste.

Tonight, several of its members have promised to continue to whittle away at the tax hike. Further reductions are expected, council leadership said.

“We’re going to work hard to get the tax increase down as low as possible,” Council President Randall J. Allison said, promising to not rule out more meetings despite the scheduled final reading and budget adoption tonight.

That’s $150 more on a tax bill of $1,500 for a household assessed at $100,000, he said.

Prior to Thanksgiving, Mayor Derek Slaughter introduced a proposed budget of $29.7 million proposed budget and 2.5-mill tax increase.

Allison said the revisions to the proposed budget need to include ideas by the mayor.

“We have asked him for ideas and he might bring them,” he said.

Council chopped about $777,000 from the proposed spending plan and passed the proposed budget on first reading Dec. 3.

Councilwoman Liz Miele, in a special note to taxpayers watching and reporters covering the meeting by remote, said it was “not a final product.”

A mill of real estate tax generates $860,000, according to the city finance department.

“We need outside of the box thinking,” said Councilwoman Bonnie Katz, a downtown merchant and chairwoman of the public safety and works committees.

Businesses suffered, unemployment exploded and the virus remains a threat to lives as it surges into the winter, she said.

“We’re awaiting ideas by Slaughter to reduce tax burden,” she said.

Katz said it may be time to discuss outsourcing of various departments.

“We need to review personnel,” she said.

Such potential discussion may include departments of information technology, human resources and recreation, she said.

“You can’t have a budget for mansions with enough money for small houses,” Katz said. “The bottom line is we don’t have enough money to keep paying our bills and we need to come up with a plan to build up enough equity.”

The beginning fund balance is a mere $178,000. Most fund balances should be 5 to 15 percent of the budget, Katz said.

Katz said she may suggest a swimming pool analysis be done, experts brought in, and the pool be closed for a second year in order to repair it.

“Maybe it is time the city gets out of the pool business,” Katz said.

Councilman David Banks said he and others on council remain conscious of their decisions on the older population and those on fixed-income “whose income does not go up,” he said.

Banks said the year has been tough and it is not a time to add a lot.

However, Banks said council has to pass a budget that continues to provide for a healthy city.

That means solid police, fire, codes, streets and parks, flood control, recreation and daily operation.

Banks said he was aware Slaughter does not want to add any new full-time employees and called for a freeze on salary increases for non-unionized workers, most of whom are clerical.

Banks said it is important the city workers be aware of the taxpayers but council also must prudent in its cuts.

“If you’re going to cut down to the bone, you have to make sure you don’t cut bone,” Banks said.

“Hopefully, we get it way, way down,” Allison said of the night ahead. “That is the expectation.”

The meeting is broadcast live on Zoom and YouTube at 6:30 p.m. Access is available on the city website page, he said.

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