During discussion at a Finance Committee meeting, Monday, Oct. 13, regarding the 2015 Clintonville city budget, the prospect of fewer city employees was brought to the forefront.
Through almost the first hour of the meeting, the committee, and members of the council as a whole discussed ways to cut the budget. Committee Chairman Mark Doornink told the committee he asked the city department heads to submit a budget for their department that included only the department’s needs.
Despite being asked to submit a budget that included only needs for their departments, the submitted budgets exceeded the 2015 allowable amount by $408,059 for the General Fund.
“We’re going to have to start throwing out needs as well,” Doornink said.
Debt service was not included in the proposed budget because the city is in need of help on figuring out how that impacts the budget.
Doornink said the capital budget for 2015 should be $430,000. The amount requested in the proposed budget was $565,433, so that amount needs to also be cut.
The proposed budget did not include the city taking over Graceland Cemetery. Doornink said there are several things to consider before the city takes over operations of the cemetery. He said he isn’t in a hurry to take over the cemetery.
After the committee discussed cuts that included eliminating the city flowers, eliminating pay for council members, asking the Clintonville School District to pay a larger percentage for the liaison officer, Alderwoman Mary-Beth Kuester said that in most budgets salaries are the biggest portion of the budget. She said she didn’t think the city’s budget needed salaries cut.
Several members of the committee indicated the dollar amount of salaries has to be looked at.
Doornink said along with employee salaries, employee benefits also have to be considered.
Later in the meeting committee member Bill Zienert said that the committee has gotten off to a great start at making basic cuts, but bigger cuts needed to be made.
“We’re talking about not $10,000 or $15,000 here, we’re talking about $50,000, $60,000 or $70,000,” Zienert said. “… It sounds like we’re not talking about less paper clips and no water in the breakroom, we’re talking about positions at that point, are we not?”
“These are the tough decision,” Doornink said.
“If we’re having to talk about having to say good-bye to people who have worked diligently for us, I think we need to start getting that message out to our constituents now and focus this discussion in a way that is going to give the department heads what they need to make very difficult recommendations.”
“The council pay and flowers are crumbs compared to what we need to do,” Alderman Greg Rose said. “I think we’re looking at large items, we’re talking about cars, trucks, heavy equipment, these kinds of things that may have to get put off for a year from capital.
“When it comes to employees we need to look at making wise decisions when people choose to move to a different community for a different job elsewhere.”
He said consolidating those positions and not hiring a replacement needs to be considered. He used the Clintonville School District as an example. He said you don’t hear about the school district laying off teachers.
“It’s all done quietly by people retiring and positions are not filled, so it’s a gradual shrinking that goes under the radar and we need to do the same here with our spending,” Rose said.
Rose did add that safety can’t be sacrificed, and basic needs still need to be provided.
“But we need to have a skeleton crew, unfortunately,” Rose said.
Chief of Police Terry Lorge told the committee the Clintonville Police Department went to 11 officers around 1976 and it currently still has 11 officers. He added that the dispatchers also perform clerical duties.
“We’ve cut until we can’t cut anymore,” Lorge said. “I understand the position we’re in. I also understand the city has a fund balance and I understand the school has used fund balance in the past.”
He suggested cutting the budget as much as possible and consider using the city’s fund balance to help balance the budget.
“I’m sorry to be up on a soap box here, but these are things that the department heads and staff have been holding in for months,” Lorge said. “… We do the best we can with what we have but there has to be a solution here without losing protection and services to the community.”
Lorge said he wasn’t just referring to the police department, but all city departments.
The discussion turned to the city’s fund balance, which Doornink said helped maintain the city’s cash flow. He said the current balance is about $1.7 million.
He added that the city has contacted its financial advisor and was told the fund balance is typically used for large, one-time projects.
The financial advisors also told the city that if it wanted to spend down some of the fund balance it would not be fiscally responsible to do so.
The city needs at least $900,000 to $1.1 million in the fund balance for cash flow, Doornink said.
Rose said the school district has used fund balance in the past for roof repairs, and he’s heard “horror stories” about other districts tapping into their fund balance year after year until the cushion is gone.
“It’s always best to error on the conservative side and have that safety net, but then you have to look at what Officer Lorge was saying there are points here, we can’t make sacrifices,” Rose said.
Doornink agreed using fund balance was something to consider, but the pros and cons have to be weighed.
The committee agreed to ask city department heads to cut their budgets. The committee was scheduled to meet again, Tuesday, Oct. 21 to discuss those cuts.