Cutting back: Proposed city budget closes recycling center, cuts back on leaf and brush removal 2013.05.08

By DAVID GREEN

An anticipated loss of $177,000 in revenue will lead to cuts in most city departments based on the proposed Morenci budget for 2013-14. The spending plan calls for closure of the recycling center, laying off the cemetery sexton, cutting the library budget by 15 percent ($14,367) and the fire department and police department by 10 percent each.

The cemetery would no longer have a dedicated sexton. Instead, DPW workers would fill in for burial duty and grounds maintenance will be contracted to a private service. 

If the library board chooses to maintain the existing level of service—programming, hours of operation, and staff—the board will be forced to use money from its savings. The police department will also decide where to cut, such as in part-time help. Fire department spending is pegged at $21,000 less compared to last year, when new pagers were purchased.

The recycling center has operated at a loss of $13,173 so far this fiscal year and just under $10,000 the previous year. Income from the sale of recyclable materials totaled $3,000 the previous year but fell to $1,600 this year.

Mayor Keith Pennington will present an overview of the proposed budget at the public hearing May 13. The meeting is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. in city hall.

Other reductions proposed in the budget include cutting back on the removal of brush from the curbside to twice a year and greatly reducing leaf collection in the fall. The summer recreation program will be reduced to one day a week and private funding will be sought. Participants might also pay a fee. The United Way contributes $600 to the program and the Morenci Kiwanis Club voted last week to give $500.

City council and the mayor will go without pay and travel reimbursement, with total cuts coming in at 26 percent ($13,500). Travel expenses stand at $2,385 so far this year. 

A change in the contract with the building inspector would make that position an independent contractor rather than a city employee.

One fund showing an increase in funding is for the city clerk/administrator and general office operation. The fund received $70,190 in 2011/12 and increased to $80,388 in the current year. Next year it rises to $88,908.

Administrator Renée Schroeder said the new person to be hired will start at a lower wage, but higher insurance costs are budgeted in case the new employee needs family coverage. Extra hours are also scheduled because the new employee will begin working before Schroeder leaves. She anticipates that 47 hours out of an 80-hour two-week pay period will be paid through the general fund, with other hours funded by streets, water, sewer, etc.

A $93,000 backhoe will be purchased through a five-year loan, with the first payment due in January 2014.

REVENUE—State-shared revenue actually increased by $5,000, but the big revenue loss is the result of machinery finally being removed from the former Palm Plastics facility. That will result in a loss of personal property taxes totaling more than $160,000.

Mayor Pennington said the City was first informed by the County Equalization Department that revenue losses wouldn't be nearly as significant, but later found out the true impact of the Palm closing.

The general fund will receive $50,000 forwarded from savings, as it has in recent years. The money will come from a $100,000 CD that comes due in December.

Mayor Pennington urges residents to attend the public hearing to state their preferences for services. With a set amount of revenue, city council is forced to either make cuts or increase taxes. A long-term solution is to increase the tax base, something Pennington would like to accomplish through additional economic development. A larger industrial park, for example, would clear the way for a large industry.

"If there are no more taxes than what we have, then this is the level of services I'm comfortable with," Pennington said about the proposed budget. "I'm fine with whatever the public wants."

He said if anyone wants to dig into the numbers presented in the budget, the document is available at city hall.

"We want to be as transparent as possible," he said.

The final budget is expected to be approved by council at the May 20 meeting. That meeting will be scheduled one week earlier than normal due to the Memorial Day holiday.

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