GALLIPOLIS — Gallipolis City Commissioners met with municipal department heads Tuesday evening in the Gallipolis Municipal Building as the legal deadline approaches to hammer out details of the 2016 city budget.
“We appreciate everyone showing up for this meeting,” City Commission President Tony Gallagher said to those assembled. “This budget problem didn’t start this year. It’s been going on for a few years, and now it’s laid in our and your laps. Consequently, we have to deal with it.”
City Manager Gene Greene gave a brief synopsis of what had occurred over the last few weeks. He told department heads the budget would not be balanced that Tuesday evening. Greene announced to department heads that city officials were making cuts to department budget requests.
“We’re in the process of cutting costs on projects,” Greene said. “Some of the projects we can’t afford, so we’re not even going to go into contracts on that. We’re going to close contracts this year as far as I’m concerned. We’re not going to be starting any new ones until we get back on track and have some kind of revenue coming back into the city. I don’t like borrowing money and doing rent-to-own equipment.”
Greene told department heads he wanted to pay for equipment as a city without having to get loans from a bank. He told room occupants that the water department seems to be financially holding fairly well on its own. Greene said he felt the sewer department seems comfortable with where it sat in its budget as well.
“My concern is the general fund. General fund, as we know, funds the fire department, police department, auditor’s office, (city) manager’s office, the (municipal) court, tax office, (city) solicitor’s office, code (enforcement) office and parks and (recreation),” Greene said.
Greene apologized to Gallipolis Fire Chief Keith Elliot and said he felt capital funding for the department was “gone.” Reimbursement for volunteer firefighters may not be feasible at the current time, either. Greene noted that Elliot had already cut about $53,000 out of his budget. Greene said that of two requested police cruisers to replace aging ones, the city can only afford one.
“For myself, when I started looking at stuff and I started facing the fact that we may have to do layoffs, which we’ve never had to do before, I thought the first person I would layoff would be myself,” said City Clerk and Auditor Annette Landers. “You can’t do without an auditor, but I’m reducing my hours to 30 per week. That’s a 25 percent cut in pay for me. It keeps my benefits but it makes me suffer first. I think that’s right.”
Greene also announced that if he had to take a cut in pay for the benefit of the budget, he would follow Landers’ example. City officials announced there may be further shuffling of job duties and budget categories to keep the general fund budget from going into the red.
Employees in the tax office also discussed pulling back to a four-day work week.
Gallipolis Municipal Court helped arrange for $25,000 to go toward city debt service for 2016.
Gallipolis officials urged department heads to cut budgets as much as possible. Some announced they felt that it may be impossible for them to cut any more. Some department heads announced that equipment purchases had to be made for operations to be run effectively.
Greene emphasized his concern at a potential drop in service with the police department and budget cuts. Greene said that roughly 990 arrests were made last year and the number had raised from 2014. Greene noted 110 drug offenses had been addressed, 11 burglaries, six robberies along with 520 thefts. Greene claimed the figures had steadily climbed since 2012. He anticipated the numbers to continue to go up.
Greene continued on to address the need for the passage of the 1 percent levy income increase for individuals working in the city limits as a means to fund public safety options. He said financial stress removed from the police department would also remove stress from the other city departments.
“When citizens call for help with a crime, they expect an officer to show up,” Greene said. “We need to make sure that happens.”
City commissioners Steve Wallis and Matt Johnson debated the necessity of income revenue and how to bring more money into the general fund. Wallis agreed with Greene’s previous point that the passage of an income tax issue was a necessity to continue operating the city. Johnson felt it necessary to promote the passage of another liquor option for the downtown Gallipolis Revitalization District that will be coming up for vote March 15.
City commission members adjourned for another budget hearing next Tuesday.
Dean Wright can be reached at (740) 446-2342, Ext. 2103.