Confronted with the reality of cutting city jobs, the Havelock Board of Commissioners directed the city staff to re-examine the entire proposed budget for 2013-14.
The board met Monday in hopes of cutting the budget to eliminate a proposed 2-cent property tax increase. Some cuts were proposed but the idea of eliminating some of the 125 employees was not a step commissioners wanted to take on Monday.
They directed City Manager Jim Freeman and Finance Director Lee Tillman to go back over the budget.
"I think the city manager and the finance officer need to go back and take a look at every department and look at positions," Commissioner George Liner said. "If we’re at zero growth this year with an opportunity of zero growth next near, we’re going to have to do something … furlough, people gone, or drastically reduced services."
The total proposed budget stands at $15.6 million, with property taxes increasing from 46.5 cents per $100 in property value to 48.5 cents, about $27 per year on the average Havelock home valued at $134,830.
Commissioners and Mayor Jimmy Sanders have said they don’t want a tax increase in the budget. Sanders said he didn’t think Freeman and Tillman would want commissioners to make the cuts.
"I think you’ll use a scalpel, and we’ll use a rusty axe," he said.
Commissioners considered eliminating a planning department position and the public information/grants position Monday night.
"They might not cut anybody, but we might have to cut services to meet this budget without raising taxes," Liner said.
The board discussed the possibility of a hiring freeze in which vacant positions would not be filled.
"It’s something to think about," Commissioner Jim Stuart said.
However, that could lead to shortages in areas such as the police department or fire department.
"You’re going to lose services by doing that," Commissioner Danny Walsh said.
Freeman said that a hiring freeze and even furloughs had been done previously.
"This was a hard decision," Freeman said. "I didn’t want to pick on anybody, but we had to look at the economy. We had to look at the activities that were happening in that department. Some people don’t like this, I know. As a manager, you find that every department is the center of the universe that you can’t do without, but in reality when it comes to a business-type approach, there are those core services.
"What this budget does is it does lose some services with a couple of people here, but yet we are able to continue exactly the type of service that the customers have been used to. And it’s hard doing that."
Stuart said cutting positions may do more harm in that workload would increase for other employees, leading to overtime and more expense from the budget.
"I know there are people out there thinking, ‘Look old man. You’re going to drive the overtime slam through the ceiling’ but that’s part of it," he said. "What I’ve suggested doesn’t necessarily have to be, but it’s to get everybody thinking."
Commissioners also balked at a proposed increase in trash pickup from $13.95 per month to $16.77 per month, saying they would not want to see a monthly bill higher than $14.50.
In an attempt to cut expenses, commissioners called for the elimination of $5,000 for the Havelock Appearance Commission, $20,000 for the minimum housing program in the planning department, $10,000 for upgrades to an animal control truck, $12,000 for upgrades to a city ambulance, $14,467 for recreation complex bleachers and $75,000 for clearing of drainage.
Commissioners also reduced a $10,000 request for new computers at the Havelock Library to $4,000.
The board is still considering $24,410 for a city employee dental program, $30,000 for a new patrol car and $105,103 for a new knuckle boom truck for the public services department.
The board is scheduled to meet again to discuss the proposed budget at 5:30 p.m. Monday at Havelock City Hall. The meeting is open to the public, but comments will not be taken.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 10 at Havelock City Hall.