| By Jason C. Mattox
and Rupert Howell
Department heads’ "wish lists" were slashed during two sessions of the Batesville City Board with a third session scheduled after press time yesterday as city leaders attempt to create a balanced budget for the 2007 fiscal year.
The two-day cut-fest began Monday afternoon and continued Tuesday following city leaders’ regular meeting.
At the start of the process, the city needed to cut $3 million to have a balanced budget.
"Keep in mind, this budget is a worst case scenario," CPA Bill Crawford of the William H. Polk CPA firm said. "That is the figure you have if you allow everything the department heads asked for."
Batesville Police Department was proposing a $186,000 budget to fund new equipment and software.
"Let’s cut that down $36,000 and make it $150,000," Ward 4 Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders said. "They will have a figure and be able to spend on what they think is the most important."
The next cuts, and perhaps the largest, came from the Batesville Fire Department’s proposed budget.
"I see one thing we can cut right off the bat," Pounders said, referring to proposed sleeping quarters in Station 2.
That single item was budgeted at $500,000.
"It’s almost time to send this back to them and say come up with something realistic," Ward 1 Alderman Bill Dugger said. "They have been asking for that for years and we keep having to cut it."
Other items cut from the BFD included:
– $40,000 for a pick-up truck
– $4,000 for a storm shelter
– $30,000 for a weight room
– $8,500 for an equipment shed
– $50,000 for purchase of land to construct
a training facility.
An addition to this year’s budget is $200,000 to pay for the construction and upkeep of an animal shelter.
"We are really getting to the point where we have to do something about this," Alderman-at-Large Teddy Morrow said. "Our lease on the current location is going to run out, and we don’t know if we can re-up."
Another major cut went to the Batesville Civic Center.
Director Roy Hyde had been requesting $519,000 to construct an equine arena for horse shows.
"We all know the big money is in the horse shows because people will be here for several days at a time," Pounders said implying that local business and taxes earned by the city would increase with weekend events compared to one night events. "But this is just something we can’t afford to do this year."
These major cuts along with smaller ones made throughout the meeting resulted in the city cutting nearly half of the proposed deficit.
"We have cut the problem in half, but I don’t know where we can cut the other half from," Pounders said. "We might be in trouble."
On the following day during the budget session cuts, hospital sale proceeds and a potential bond issue for capital improvements were discussed as solutions for closing the gap between revenues and expenses on the budget which totals almost $20 million.
CPA Crawford, who advises the city on the budgeting process, later explained that using a potential bond issue for capital improvements frees cash on hand or projected for operating costs to be used in the budgeting process.
The city had more income that anticipated last year and cut back on expenses and capital expansion projects didn’t get started which virtually helped the city stay within budget without raising bonds or taxes.
Although the city did not discuss a tax increase, a one mill rate increase would produce $87,000 in revenue.
The city must agree on a budget by September 15 to meet mandated deadlines.