It#039;s that time: Budgets old, new take stage

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Jingle bells, budget swells, council charts the way.

While it may not be the Christmas carol you remember, the tune is certainly a familiar one to Ironton city leaders as they prepare for their annual game of beat the clock. No, it is not Christmas that causes the number crunching and penny pinching. It is the often dreaded "B" word: Budget.

The city's finance committee spent the better part of Monday evening looking over budgets both old and new as the city looked at final adjustments to the 2004 version and began looking at the cost cutting expected for next years plan, of which a temporary version must be adopted by Dec. 31.

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Several council members have had hang-ups with the dollars and cents of both. In the 2004 final revision, the major sticking point has been the police overtime fund that will end the year spending more than $73,000, or in other terms, $25,000 more than originally budgeted.

"I am disappointed from the response of the police department to try and curb the overtime. At the beginning of the year, we were promised a very proactive stance to budget overtime, take care of the sick time and better schedule vacations," committee chairman Brent Pyles said. "At this point, I am not sure that occurred. The costs continue to escalate."

With still two weeks to go on the final pay period, nearly $5,000 of overtime in the department has yet to be paid as the funds continued to dwindle, though the officers will get paid when the money is there, city finance director Cindy Anderson said.

Mayor John Elam told the committee that he has been working with the department heads to cut costs and that he and Chief Bill Garland will soon look at a way to address the problem.

"It is still my feeling that we are going to be able to reduce overtime by hiring an additional employee," he said.

Committee member Chuck O'Leary agreed that this seems like the logical step.

"With that much overtime, it just makes sense," he said. "I would rather have more people on the streets."

Elam said he hopes that his department heads can find ways to cut 15 percent from each of their individual budgets, though he admitted it is unlikely to happen.

"We are still very early in our analysis but I would say 15 percent is not achievable," Elam said. "Not if we are going to continue to provide services."

Councilman Jesse Roberts emphasized that no new revenue streams will be flowing into the city coffers any time soon and that tough choices will have to be made.

"The bulk of any fund we have is payroll. I hope we are really looking at that," he said. "There are no new funds at this point."

Roberts asked Anderson to prepare a 1-month temporary budget as an alternative to be looked at until the issue can be examined in more detail.