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Budget, salary, tax ordinances would cut jobs, hike tax

By Bill ShortFlag City Logo

The Millington Board of Mayor and Aldermen passed budget, salary and tax ordinances on second reading last week that would eliminate jobs and increase the property tax.
Board members took the action during a June 11 special called meeting.
A motion to pass the budget ordinance as amended was approved by five affirmative votes, with Aldermen Mike Caruthers and Chris Ford dissenting, and Alderman Hank Hawkins absent.
The Position Control Budget and Compensation Policy for the 2014 fiscal year was unanimously approved. But the tax ordinance was passed with Caruthers and Ford again dissenting.
The ordinances are scheduled for a public hearing and final reading during a special called meeting at 6 p.m. June 27.
Thus far, the board has voted to eliminate 18 employee positions and increase the certified property tax rate by 35.5 cents, which would total approximately $1.70 for each $100 of assessed valuation.
The budget ordinance originally proposed the elimination of 19 employee positions. Those included the two inspectors in the police department, as well as three patrol officers and a dispatcher position that are currently vacant.
But Caruthers expressed concern about eliminating both inspector positions.
“I could see eliminating one, but not two,” he said. “We have a very young police force, and we need the experience at that level to give them guidance and leadership.”
Caruthers also said he could not justify in his mind eliminating an inspector, when there may be extra employee positions in Arts and Recreation and the other city departments that have not been identified for elimination.
Partly agreeing with Caruthers, Ford said the police department has the “least amount of experience” that he has ever known. For that reason, he said he would not support eliminating either inspector or the three patrol officer positions.
“I’m in the insurance business,” he noted. “We rely on fire and police for protection and response time. I can’t imagine living in a city where I wouldn’t feel totally protected.”
City Manager Thomas Christie said each of the 19 targeted positions represents approximately 3 cents of the local property tax rate. So, if the six police positions were restored, it would add another 18 to 20 cents onto the tax rate.
“It’s very tough, and it’s very sensitive,” he noted. “But every position carries a cost in the city.”
While acknowledging that he would prefer not to lose any employees in the police, fire, arts and recreation and public works departments, Christie said those 19 positions represent almost $700,000. And he does not know how to finance that amount.
In response to a question by Alderman Frankie Dakin, Police Chief Rita Stanback said her department would risk being “a little top-heavy” if the two inspectors are kept and the four vacant positions are not filled. But noting that a sergeant and a lieutenant are currently applying for jobs with other law enforcement agencies, she said there is a good chance that those positions will also be vacated.
When Caruthers asked what the chief feels “comfortable” with in her department, Stanback said she would “love” to keep all of her patrol officers. And if some of the “upper-management” employees were to leave, she would not replace them.
In response to a question by Alderman Thomas McGhee, Christie said the board could pay someone to leave by doing a “buyout.” But he questioned how effective it would be.
And Alderman Bethany Huffman said the board would not ask a police inspector to “go back” and be a sergeant or lieutenant if one of those positions became vacant. She recalled that, at one of the budget work sessions, the board discussed the viability of fewer inspectors but an assistant chief position with the responsibility for training a young force.
Stanback said she is interested in having an assistant chief and maybe attempting to define some of the other positions differently.
A motion initially offered by Ford to keep the two police inspector positions died for lack of a second. Then, a motion offered by Caruthers to restore one inspector was defeated, with the two senior aldermen the only ones supporting it.
But at the end of the meeting, a reconsidered motion offered by Ford and seconded by Caruthers to restore one inspector and eliminate a vacant lieutenant position was passed unanimously.
The budget ordinance also proposes eliminating two positions in the fire department – the deputy fire chief and the fire marshal. Ford asked Fire Chief Gary Graves what effect this would have on his department.
Graves recalled that, during a budget work session, the board asked him to submit some long-range plans for reorganizing his department. In his budget analysis, Graves stated that if Deputy Fire Chief Danny Turpin and Fire Marshal Jack Foraker were to retire, he would not fill those vacancies.
Noting that Turpin has been with the department for 35 years, and Foraker is only 17 months away from age 65, Graves said he does not think it is right not to fund their positions after July 1.
“Both of those positions eventually will become available, probably sooner than later,” the chief acknowledged. “But if we’re not going to fund them, I think there needs to be some type of severance package.”
When Caruthers said the concept of a severance package or buyout also applies to the police inspectors, Christie recommended that the board not “pick and choose.”
“If you start picking and choosing and saying that this one’s more valuable than the other, you get yourself in trouble,” he said. “If you’re going to do things, be consistent. I don’t think it would be fair to offer one or two people a buyout and not all of them.”
Ford said he disagrees with the “whole concept” of how the board is looking at these employees as a “dollar figure.”
“These people have given a lot of years of their lives in service to this city,” he noted. “And we’re going to say, ‘Thank you, hit the door,’ within a year or two of retirement. That’s wrong, regardless of how much money it costs us.”
Because Millington did not get into this situation “overnight,” Ford said the board is not going to solve all the city’s issues in one year.
“We knew that we were going to have to dip into some of the fund balance,” he acknowledged. “How much remains to be seen. But we can’t do it all in taxes or fund balance and laying people off.”
When Mayor Terry Jones said he thought the plan was to do it by attrition instead of layoffs, Ford said that was also his impression. Christie said it can be done by attrition, but $600,000 will have to be added to the budget.
“Well, let’s add it then,” Ford responded. “We knew we weren’t going to solve this in one year.”
Christie said it is the board’s responsibility to decide how many positions it wants to eliminate. And what it does not eliminate will be added to the property tax or fund balance.
A motion offered by Ford to keep the deputy fire chief and fire marshal positions died for lack of a second.
The budget ordinance proposes eliminating six positions in the Arts and Recreation Department.
Noting that he does not believe the department needs the parks manager position, Caruthers said he thinks one of the crew workers could function as the senior supervisor.
But Arts and Recreation Director Todd Goode said that, if the other six positions are eliminated, the parks manager will also be the day-to-day manager of Baker Community Center, handling the more than 200 events that are scheduled there each month.
Goode noted that he tries to make his department as efficient as possible. And the only way he can keep the service level “anywhere close” to what the residents expect is by eliminating only those six positions.
In response to a question by Jones, Goode said two of the positions involve grass cutting. But he acknowledged that his budget currently has part-time money for “seasonal people” to do that.
A motion by Caruthers to eliminate the parks manager position was defeated, with him casting the only affirmative vote.
City Finance Director John Trusty said the Street Department currently has a heavy equipment operator, a supervisor, two equipment operators and five crew workers. The budget ordinance proposes reducing those to three crew workers and one equipment operator.
City Engineer Darek Baskin noted that the reductions would affect the amount of grounds-keeping that the city covers, as well as the number of storm drains that can be cleaned out.
Sanitation Manager Rodney Stanback said eliminating an equipment operator would take away the man who runs the street sweeper every day, who is also one of the tractor drivers.
When Caruthers asked what he would suggest for the department, Stanback said it could handle losing one crew worker but not an equipment operator.
Caruthers asked whether the board could consider adding part-time employees before the final reading of the ordinance. While noting that it would affect the tax rate, Christie acknowledged that it could be done.
He said $15,000 would add 1 cent to the tax rate, while $30,000 would add 2 cents.
But a motion offered by Caruthers and seconded by Dakin to add $15,000 for part-time employees to cut grass during the summertime was defeated by a 4-2 vote.
In other action, a motion offered by Alderman Larry Dagen and seconded by Dakin to rescind the 3- and 5-percent across-the-board salary increases approved during the 2013 fiscal year was defeated.
Dagen, Dakin and McGhee voted yes, but Caruthers, Ford and Huffman dissented. So, Jones cast the tie-breaker by voting no.
But the board did vote to rescind the “adjustments” made to selected employees’ salaries that did not follow board policy. Ford was the lone dissenter.
Stating the policy, Christie said that, if a pay grade improves, or there is a promotion to a higher pay grade, the individual should be compensated either an additional 5 percent of his previous salary, or go in at the beginning of that particular pay grade, whichever is larger.
“What we found is that, in at least 31 cases,” Christie said, “that was not done.”

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