Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Council Committee Passes $8 Million in Budget Cuts

Posted By on Tue, May 25, 2010 at 3:56 PM

The City Council's operating budget committee approved Mayor Wharton's proposed budget cuts, excluding $1.4 million for parks and public services.

"I don't believe we've gotten any emails about anything in the city attorney's office. No one in city has emailed us about personnel vacancies in general services," said council member Myron Lowery. "We have, however, heard a lot from citizens on golf courses, community centers, day camps, and police services."

A city council committee had earlier recommended closing the city's three nine-hole golf courses in Overton and Riverside parks and in Whitehaven. Wharton's initial proposal also saved the courses, at least for the first three months of the fiscal year.

"If we cannot make [Riverside and Overton] operate at a break-even level, I'm going to come back to this body and say we've got to close them," Wharton said, "unless this body says we're going to subsidize them."

Whitehaven wasn't included for closure under the mayor's proposal.

To make Overton and Riverside profitable, Wharton's staff is looking at increasing fees, selling naming rights, privatization, and hours of operations.

Councilman Jim Strickland noted that people can, and do, play Overton after-hours without paying green fees.

"Under the current situation, Overton is doomed to failure. If we keep the same hours, people are playing it, but only a certain number of people are paying for it," Strickland said. "I'm not sure every single city service has to break even."

A debt restructuring will give the city $41 million in budgetary relief for the 2011 fiscal year, but today's exclusions leave the council needing to find another $1.4 million for the city schools for the upcoming year.

The proposal also included fee increases for ambulance services, sewer fees, and solid waste fund fees.

Wharton said the proposed budget was based on his plan to reassess all city operations.

"I would ask this body to approve this and allow us to move quickly to do a strategic, across-the-city study in determining how big city government ought to be and what services we ought to be providing," Wharton said. "We'll first look at our economic development structure: How can we grow the economy?

"We're never going to be able to tax our way to where we want to be, nor can we cut our way to where we want to be."

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