By Tiffeny Owens
The Cullman Times
Last Monday night, on the eve of the new fiscal year, the Hanceville City Council accomplished what the U.S. Congress failed to do: pass an annual budget
After weeks of marathon budget work sessions and unpleasant rejections of departmental requests, the council unanimously approved a $3.3 million budget for fiscal year 2014 that began Tuesday.
“It was already a tight budget that we tightened up some more, but I think it’s workable,” said Mayor Kenneth Nail after the vote Monday. “There’s just going to be a lot of money until the end of the year.”
Over the past month, council members and Nail have met one-on-one with various department heads to go over their expense budgets line by line. The final budget projects $3,394,786 in total revenue and estimates $3,322,225 in total expenses, with a total net income of $72,561. The budget also includes a $40,000 transfer to savings.
At the special-called budget meeting, Councilman Doug Batemon proposed the city open a new savings account and deposit the $37,000 in total proceeds from the recent sales of the old Stepville fire station ($29,000) and the Davis property ($8,000) held by the industrial development board. Nail said that would not be feasible because that money would be needed in the general fund to pay bills.
“Looking at this budget, as soon as we put that money in savings, we better be ready just to pull it right back out,” said Councilman Jimmy Sawyer.
Nail said officials should wait until the first of the year when more revenue is expected to come in to set aside the $37,000 in savings.
Before approving the budget, Nail and the council discussed more cuts and agreed on another $17,000 in all. Of that amount, $13,000 came from the police department, which is the city’s largest department with a quarter ($834,671) of the budget.
Police Chief Bob Long’s $$40,000 request to replace two patrol cars was cut by $12,000 to $28,000 and his $3,000 request for supplies was cut by $1,000 to $2,000.
The council also cut the $36,000 budgeted for legal services by $4,000 to $32,000. That line item covers City Attorney Dan Willingham’s legal counsel.
One of the biggest drains on the budget is insurance cost which is projected at $200,553, or 6 percent of the total budget. The city does not have adequate cash flow to pay its liability insurance premium in one lump sum, so it has to make quarterly payments of $28,888.25. The total premium will cost $115,553 including $5,502.52 in total annual interest fees. The city’s insurance deductible is $25,000, and workman’s compensation insurance is another $60,000.
“We only get around $200,000 for our business licenses so that’s our insurance right there,” Nail said.
Some council members have been at odds with Long and Nail over the police department’s budget, with Councilman Charles Wilson proposing a new schedule for police that would have one day-time patrol officer working with Long and city investigator Scott McDonald and then two night-time patrol officers. Long and McDonald later detailed their job responsibilities at a council meeting after hearing about the proposed schedule. Nail and Long feared that the council was considering reductions of the 10-officer force to solve the budget woes.
“If you cut the police department down below 10 people, you are jeopardizing the safety of the people of Hanceville,” Nail said. “I’m not going to do it. I won’t cut anyone. I won’t do it.”
Nail accused the council of considering cutting police officers, but not considering ways to raise taxes to generate more revenue.
“Y’all don’t even want to talk about it. We’re just giving our revenue away to people,” he said at the council’s Sept. 26 meeting. “We have too many city services for the amount of money we have coming in. Sure we can cut, but what kind of city would we have then? I’m trying to bring the city forward.”
Council member Kim Brown urged the council to remember that 40 percent of Hanceville lived below the federal poverty line which is $23,550 for a family of four and $11,490 for an individual.
“The ones you would be raising taxes on are the ones who can least afford it,” Brown said.
Nail said later even though it’s been a very difficult process, the city did undertake putting together the 2014 budget the way he always wanted to which was holding budget hearings with the council and department heads.
Tiffeny Owens can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 256-734-2131, ext. 135.