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September 19, 2013

Hanceville prioritizing to fill budget hole

HANCEVILLE — City leaders here are sifting through department expense requests carefully in an effort to close a deficit in the upcoming fiscal 2014 budget.

Hanceville Mayor Kenneth Nail and the city council have held a string of after-hours budget meetings this month with department heads to get a handle on the nearly $3 million general fund budget which begins Oct. 1. After Monday’s meeting to go over the municipal court budget, officials estimated they still had roughly $46,000 to trim.

A working draft shows expense budgets for the following major departments and their percentages of the general fund: $873,761 for police (29.2 percent), $454,939 for public works (15.2 percent), $272,051 for fire (9 percent), $159,798 for parks and recreation (5.3 percent) and $26,292 for library (0.88 percent).

Officials project $562,622 for general fund expenses and $168,000 in alcohol tax expenses. The alcohol money is split accordingly: 50 percent to the general fund, 35 percent for infrastructure and 5 percent each to Hanceville schools and fire and police departments.

“The city, by law, can only spend a lot of these funds it receives on certain things,” Nail said. “Like the oil and gas tax money; it can’t be used to pay for salaries or insurance.”

On Monday, Court Clerk Angie Finley proposed a number of measures aimed at squeezing more revenue from the city court system for the general fund. One of the most significant changes would be increasing court costs per case by $11, bringing it in line with what the Cullman County Circuit Court charges. That’s projected to increase revenue for Hanceville’s corrections fund by nearly 28 percent, Finley said.

Council president Jimmy Sawyer said his most pressing concern in the municipal court budget was how to recover more than $300,000 in outstanding warrants. Hanceville does not currently have a police officer dedicated to executing the warrants because it can’t afford to hire one.

Finely asked the council to consider hiring another full-time magistrate to help keep up with the case load and be aggressive in recovering all fines, fees and court costs possible.

Council members also agreed they wanted to keep $15,000 of the capital improvement fund to pay for renovations on the first floor of city hall for more storage. The money had initially been moved to the police budget for renovations on its office on the second floor. The capital fund has $77,528, said City Clerk Tania Wilcox.

The council discussed possibly using capital funds to make drainage improvements at the baseball fields to attract more tournaments which could increase revenue. Councilman Charles Wilson proposed installing a HVAC unit at the recreation center to encourage more event rentals there too.

“We’ve really got to be as frugal as we can and then try to do things that bring people in for revenue,” Wilson said.

Wilson proposed a new schedule for police that would have one day-time patrol officer working with Police Chief Bob Long and the city investigator and then two night-time patrol officers.

“I think we can work with fewer officers than Chief Long is telling us. Less than the 10 we have currently,” Wilson said.

Nail said Long, a salaried employee, could not work over 40 hours, and the city investigator was already “bogged down to the heels.”

Councilman Doug Batemon said the city should not hire anymore full-time employees until it “can get our house in order.”

The Hanceville City Council plans to hold another budget meeting to make the necessary departmental cuts to close the $46,000 deficit before voting on the 2014 budget.

Tiffeny Owens can be reached email at towens@cullmantimes.com or by phone at 256-734-2131, ext. 135.

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