At the end of Monday’s budget meeting, the City of Titusville was looking at a preliminary $459,000 budget shortfall. By the end of Tuesday’s meeting, that number was down after some tough decisions were made.
After meeting again with department heads, City Council looked at where any nickle or dime could be taken out of the budget, and even looked at themselves.
At the end of the meeting, the shortfall was down more than $50,000 to $403,914. Council members Sara Jones, Deputy Mayor William McCrillis and Mayor Jon Crouch all agreed that a two mill tax increase would be necessary to help balance the budget.
The fat has already been cut, and any other changes to department budgets could really impact residents.
“They’re down to the bare bones,” said Finance Director Heather Plowman.
It was Plowman who gave some of the good news of the meeting. After going back through the budget projections, Plowman put more concrete information into the budget.
Those new numbers changed some projections, and lowered the shortfall from $459,000 to $420,000. Some of these changes had to do with the department transfers.
Plowman said that using two years of time studies can give you different and more accurate results than when you use one year of data.
City officials invited Building Inspector Skip Welling, Police Chief Dustin LeGoullon and Public Works Director Chris Roofner back to the table to talk about their budgets.
The department heads were at the first budget meeting and talked over their budgets, but at that stage it was more of a wish list.
After weeks of discussion, argument, agreement and difficult decisions, the department heads came back, knowing that there was a more than $400,000 gap that needed to be filled.
“We are here for discussion, not to lower the boom,” said Jones.
The different department heads went through their budgets, and told council that cuts would change their ability to provide quality services and programs.
The police department is in need of a part-time clerk so that the officers can do their jobs of keeping the city safe without having to answer phones and collect information to send to the district attorney and other officials. This position was on last year’s preliminary budget, before it was cut.
“The problem has not gone away,” said LeGoullon. Citizens have been upset when their calls to the station go unanswered, and the department has seen that people want someone there on a regular basis.
The department is also looking to add an officer due to a potential detective position that may be added. A replacement officer would almost pay for themselves with the overtime they would save the City.
When it came to Public Works, Director Chris Roofner told council, “I don’t see a lot we can cut,” noting that much of the changes to his bottom line are salary and benefits, aspects already negotiated and promised.
There were certain capital expenses like a small tractor for and a new street sweeper that Roofner said while in appearance could be cut, are really necessary.
“Could they be cut, yes. Should they be cut, absolutely not,” said Roofner.
It is easy to cut things when just looking at it from a cost perspective, but when the purchases are really looked at it can be more difficult. The small tractor would allow Public Works to make two or three passes around critical city sidewalks and intersections instead of the one pass a day they can do now.
Roofner described the situation by saying that these decisions really come to matter when the water stops running at someone’s home.
One department that the city found some wiggle room was building inspection. Welling is in his first year on the job, and council said that it might be best to cut back on some of his asks and re-evaluate next year when there is a better sense of what is really needed.
Welling asked for a co-op student to help him, at a cost of $6,300. The City asked the treasurer’s office if they might be able to step in and help Welling during their down time, which they said they could do.
“I feel like we should try out that option. If it is not a good solution we can re-visit it next year,” said Jones.
Welling also asked for $9,800 to give him options when it comes to blighted properties. These options include boarding up windows, placing fencing around a house or demolishing the property. Last year this line item had nothing budgeted.
Council decided to meet in the middle and give Welling $5,000 for the properties.
With $11,000 cut out of the building inspector budget, council then turned to their own asks. In the preliminary budget council had a $4,000 audio video system on the books.
When they approached Stream TV about possibly broadcasting meetings live, they said the poor audio quality was something holding them back. Council decided that it was hard to ask the other departments to cut out from their budgets while they purchased something that might not be necessary.
“I’d love to be able to do it, but it is hard to justify,” said Jones.
The cut of the audio/video equipment took the budget down further, and with Plowman’s decision not to attend a conference, council had cut an additional $16,000 from the budget.
“These are tough decisions that have to be made,” said Crouch.
With a two mill tax increase, the City is looking at a shortfall of $268,914. Plowman said that she would feel comfortable using budget carryover to balance out the budget.
Council was not pleased with the decisions that had to be made, but were able to find comfort in the fact that no services or programs had to be reduced.
“They’re finding ways to save,” said Plowman about the department heads, and council had to find some ways of their own.
The budget will now have to be presented for the first reading. The first reading will happen during one of council’s November meetings.
Council meetings are open to the public, and council members encourage the public to come voice their opinions. The upcoming council meeting was changed from Tuesday, Nov. 2 to Wednesday, Nov. 3, to account for the election.
Dvorkin can be reached by email at Gdvorkin@Titusvilleherald.com.