The Hardy City Council faced tough decisions and a packed city hall Dec. 15 during the council’s final budget meeting.
Once the meeting began, Sharp County Justice of the Peace Roger Stark spoke to the council to inquire as to whether they would be discussing the proposal, submitted by request, to the council concerning the police department. Stark was told it would be discussed but not until later in the meeting.
Next to speak to the council was District Judge and local attorney Mark Johnson on behalf of the Sharp County Library Board. For the past several months, the city and library have been in legal conversation over the 99 year lease contract which is held between the two entities.
Summing up his presentation, Johnson told the council the library was requesting a little over $11,000 be budgeted for the library on the city’s part in order to cover the cost of the city’s agreement with the library. Johnson also said that a person, business, government entity or otherwise, was only as good as their word and that he hoped the city would keep their word in regards to the contract.
After Johnson’s presentation, the council then began to go through the budget with a metaphorical fine tooth comb, searching for areas which could be cut to make up for the $105,000 projected shortfall.
Treasurer Greg Bess began by laying out the city’s financial reality and issues they would face this year. Bess started by citing the law which stated a city of the first or second class or incorporated town could not legally pass a budget which they knew would leave the city in debt or was not balanced.
“I’m calling them non-recurring expenses and I don’t know if that’s the proper term but we have expenses coming up this next year that we know are past sins. We have a LOPFI issue to deal with the reconciliation for our fireman and police retirement program, we have an old retirement program we know we’re going to have to pay on and then we have the FEMA bill for the bathrooms that we know of and that’s $118,000,” Bess said.
The council then began to go over the budget, page by page, beginning with the street budget.
During the course of the four hour meeting, the council worked to trim funds from every possible area before addressing the police budget which was a large portion of the city’s budget.
Previously, the council had voted to have the Sharp County Sheriff’s Department create a proposal of what it would cost for them to take over police protection. Initially, the council seemed in favor of making the change from a city owned department to a county run department until Stark addressed the council a second time.
Stark told the council that he had found in speaking with other quorum court members, the current tone wasthe county was not favorable to taking over the department and if brought to a vote, would likely not pass.
Following his conversation with the council, the council then re-evaluated their options. A motion was made to cut the police department’s budget from around $260,000 down to $155,000.
The council called for Police Chief Tamara Taylor asking her if she could cut her budget by that much.
Taylor told the council she didn’t feel comfortable giving the council an answer without looking over her department’s finances further. Taylor said she did know if the department could continue to provide the same level of round-the-clock police protection if her budget were to be reduced by that much.
After much discussion, Mayor Jason Jackson attempted to get the amount of the police department’s budget raised slightly, due to the need to cover code enforcement, but the council opted to stand firm on a budget of $155,000.
This new figure would require officers of the department to work from 8 a.m. until 12, but would not offer city coverage between the hours of midnight and 8 a.m. Instead, that timeframe would be covered by the county officer on duty.
Chief Taylor said if the council would fully fund the airport agreement and library agreement, she would be willing to work on call in order to help cover the third shift. Taylor stated her primary reason was to provide safety to the citizens of Hardy.
As the council continued to make cuts to the budget, they initially reduced the amount of the $5,000 obligation to the airport to $2,500, but then replaced the funds to the original $5,000 after the council members, fire chief and treasurer all agreed to sacrifice pay for either themselves or their departments.
The discussion then returned to the need to fund the library. Nearing the end of the hours-long meeting, the council was able to pass a balanced budget, but was not able to meet the obligation of the library.
Ultimately, the council opted to keep the funds to the library at $3,000 which left a long way to go to reach the goal set before the council earlier in the meeting.
Alderman Bruce Thurow suggested should additional revenue or funds come into the city, they be put toward the agreement with the library. No action was taking.
Hardy City Council meets the first Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at Hardy City Hall.
Reprinted with permission from Area Wide News