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— Though in better shape than many cities, Gentry council members meeting as the finance committee are looking for ways to do some belt-tightening on the city’s 2010 budget.

Gentry Mayor Wes Hogue brought a first draft of a 2010 budget to the finance committee at a meeting on Monday, telling council members serving on the committee his budget proposal was only in its draft stages with much work yet to be done.

“This is only a first draft of the budget,” Hogue said. “There is still a lot of work to be done, but I’ve hit a wall because what we’ve done in the past is coming up short this year. I think it’s going to take a real philosophy shift (this year) even if it’s only temporary ... We’ve got some hard choices to be made here, and I would rather they be made by the council,” he said.

According to the proposed budget, total general fund revenues were anticipated to be down from the current year, with $1,330,566 budgeted for 2009 and only $1,292,537 for 2010. Though county turn-back money was expected to be $20,000 higher in 2010 - going up from a budgeted $215,000 in 2009 to $235,000 in 2010 (the city received $255,000 last year) - city use and sales tax was estimated at $30,000 lower - budgeted at $170,000 in 2009 and down to $140,000 for 2010. Most other income estimates remained unchanged.

According to Hogue, the city’s street and alley department and water and sewer department each had their own standalone revenue sources. But other departments depend on the city sales and use tax and county tax for revenue.

On the expenditure side, the proposed budget included the personnel committee recommended 3 percent across-theboard pay raise for city employees and participation in the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System - which would cost the city an additional 4 percent of employee salary costs above the current 8 percent now paid. Except for moneys already committed by the council - such as matching grantmoney - many other items were pared back. But the expenditures, even without any new projects, left a positive balance of only $50,674 at the end of the year in the general fund.

The city has in the past always tried to budget conservatively, allowing a minimum 10 percent surplus. The initial proposed budget comes in at 96 percent of the anticipated income, leaving little extra for emergencies, unanticipated expenses or a deeper shortfall in incoming revenue.

Hogue told council members he believed more cuts may be needed but that he wanted their help and guidance as to where in the budget and how much.

“The budget before you is a balanced budget,” Hogue said. “But it’s not a sustainable budget. We can’t go on like this.”

“If it were a business or a household, in rough years, you would do without for a while,” city clerk Jo Ellen Martin said. “We’ve got a couple of rough years here. We need to take some things out (of the budget) for a while. It doesn’t mean forever,” she said. “We haven’t crashed in any way. We just have to cut back a little,” she added.

Council member James Fergason suggested the council prioritize projects and the city only do what it can for now, considering the importance of each project for the city and the affordability of it.

“It’s time to save back some money in reserves again,” said council member Janice Arnold. “We were able to do a lot of the projects we did before because we had saved money in reserve,” she said.

Hogue told council members he included the proposed pay raises and APERS increase in the draft budget so the council could look at the numbers.

“I can remember whenJ.D. (Smith) and I worked on budgets and he always based pay raises on Social Security increases - and there is none for next year,” Fergason said. “I disagreed with him and didn’t think it was right, and I lost the battle. But why would we at this time, this year -maybe it will be different in six months - give pay raises?” he asked.

Hogue urged council members to take the draft budget home and study it line-by-line and then give him direction in regard to further cuts.

The full city council could take up the budget as early as its Nov. 2 meeting. According to Hogue, he is required to present a budget to the council on or before Dec. 1, and a budget must be passed by the council by Feb. 1 of the budget year.

Hogue said the city has always adopted a budget prior to the end of the year so that it did not begin a new year with no budget in place. Further changes can be made to the budget at any time by the council, Hogue said.

News, Pages 1 on 10/28/2009

Print Headline: City considering belt-tightening measures for 2010 budget

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