Facing a tight budget year with no tax increase, city officials are not expecting much in the way of extra spending for 2013-14. That may not be good news for the Smithville Fire Department which had hoped to add one or two new paid full time firefighters.
In their final workshop before Monday night's council meeting, the mayor and aldermen met Tuesday evening with financial consultant, Janice Plemmons-Jackson to crunch the budget numbers. Jackson said she and secretary-treasurer Hunter Hendrixson have gone over the proposed budget in recent days cutting "fluff". But with all the revisions that have been made, the city could still go slightly in the red or just break even by the end of the fiscal year. "The (proposed) general fund had a (projected) $200,000 deficit for the year," said Jackson. "Hunter and I went through and talked about taking out all the fluff, or the rounding, or the cushioning. We decided to go back to a barebones (budget). We've got the general fund tightened down as good as we can get it without eliminating positions or hours. This is a very tight budget," she said.
If emergency spending is required during the year, Jackson said the aldermen could approve budget amendments, taking money from the general fund surplus.
As for the fire department's request, Jackson said with revenue streams not keeping pace with expenses, the city would have to look for new money at some point if it added another firefighter position. "We've weeded out a lot of fluff. If you want to do it (add firefighter position), you've got surpluses that will provide some money to do it. But to know that it's a today, tomorrow, in the future and a never ending thing makes me look at revenues and other expenses and say, sometime you're going to need more revenues or you can't afford it. Right now today, yeah you can afford it but you may have to cut other things out. Revenues are pretty flat. They are not growing at the same rate that expenses are growing. That's why I'm cautious about adding new kinds of recurring things when you're not adding sources of revenue," said Jackson.
Still, Aldermen Shawn Jacobs and Gayla Hendrix want to find a way to fund one new firefighter position this year. "We have a group of city firefighters and a majority have been with the department for a long time, fifteen, twenty, thirty years, which is almost unheard of," said Alderman Hendrix. "You're not going to see this coming up in the newer generation. The younger people are not going to make that kind of commitment . Full volunteer departments will eventually become a thing of the past because people have jobs that they can't take off from and leave when there is a call. Factories are not going to let you up and leave like it was when we were an agricultural community when people worked for themselves and they could do that. These guys have been doing all this stuff volunteer on weekends and nights away from their families for years and years. I like the idea that we would have people on staff that could make a call in the middle of the day if someone else were not available. I would like to see us put in one more position. I think there's a lot of other areas we could start cutting back on to make this work. I think that's more necessary than a lot of things we're putting money into right now. We know we're never going to have a full time paid fire department. We're still going to rely on volunteers, but if you have a couple of paid firefighters who can do so much stuff during the week, that keeps the volunteers from having to spend all their time doing the regular routine stuff that has to be done, then the volunteers can be there to do the training and be ready to go on a call when needed," said Alderman Hendrix.
"If he gets one other firefighter, (Fire Chief) Charlie (Parker) and that firefighter could respond with a vehicle immediately. One person can't do that. They could also do first responder calls, said Alderman Jacobs. "Sometimes we fool ourselves by saying every job is as important as the other. That's not true. Public safety is a special breed and I think you've got to pay for it. If we do add this extra fireman, I would like to see the salary start at the same salary that our policemen start at," said Alderman Jacobs.
"We projected what one person would cost, benefits and all that," said Jackson. "I took the middle number of (Fire Chief) Charlie (Parker's) projections $28,000 to $32,000 and said if I take $30,000 and added the payroll tax and the insurance (benefit). Its roughly $42,000. That gets you another full time person at a $30,000 salary," she said. "Some discussion came up about, maybe that's higher than what police people start at. So you may say we'll budget only $25,000 for (one firefighter) salary," said Jackson.
The other three aldermen, Jason Murphy, Tim Stribling, and Danny Washer said the city cannot afford adding a paid firefighter position right now without tapping into general fund surpluses, a practice they believe is not appropriate for meeting recurring expenses. " I hate not to do it (fund a firefighter position). I believe in what the firefighters do. But we don't have that much of a gap (between revenues and expenses). We're eventually going to need a new fire truck. We're going to need garbage trucks and other equipment. We need to build up our fund (surplus) so that we can take those capital hits. That's what scares me about it all," said Alderman Murphy.
"Our revenue streams are going down and there's other equipment that's got to be purchased and it's going to have to come out of our surplus," said Alderman Tim Stribling. "I'm not against having them (paid firefighters) but I want to be able to fund it every year without having to worry about kicking into our surplus. Who knows, a garbage truck might break down," he said.
"I'd like to have two (paid firefighters) if we could afford it. But in my opinion, it's too much too quick," said Alderman Danny Washer. We're leveled off right now. I'd like to stay leveled off for another year and see if we generate any more revenue and see how it looks a year from now," he said.
In addition to the firefighter positions, Chief Parker had requested extra funding for other needs in the fire department. Jackson said some of those proposed amounts have been cut back in this budget. "Charlie had requested $55,000 for capital outlay but he said he had about $5,000 of specific costs for hoses. So we cut that back to $10,000. If something comes up, you could amend the budget," said Jackson.
"He (Chief Parker) had asked for $50,000 for payments to volunteers. Two years ago, the city paid $32,000. This year we paid $30,000. I bumped it down to $35,000 (in new budget). If they have a lot of fires, we'll have to amend the budget," said Jackson.
The budget does include a 1.5% pay raise for all city employees including salaried personnel and those on the police department's step increase plan.
The proposed budget for the water and sewer fund shows a deficit by the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year but that is expected to change when its known what the new water rate will be for the DeKalb Utility District in January, according to Jackson. "Water and sewer, we didn't project as much increases in revenues. We're at a (projected) loss of about $58,000 to $59,000. If you have an actual loss for two years in a row, the state makes you raise your rates to make you be profitable so we want to avoid that if possible. The big question will be what will the DUD rate be when their contract runs out?," she said. "January 1 we will be looking at having to come up with a number. We may end up, depending on where the DUD rate goes and how other costs go, that we can be profitable in 2014. My hope and goal is that we're not in the red and that we don't have to be forced to change rates," said Jackson.
The aldermen are expected to adopt on first reading Monday night, June 3 a new budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year. Two proposed budgets will be presented for consideration, one with a firefighter position included, and another without. Three votes are required for passage. The meeting begins at 7:00 p.m. at city hall. WJLE plans LIVE coverage.