Serious changes could be in store as city leaders attempt to balance budget

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Cumberland Times-News, March 6, 2012

Kristin Harty Barkley

 

Officials discuss trash pickup, trimming staff

CUMBERLAND — Trimming a little fat here and there won’t be enough to balance the city’s budget this year, staff told Mayor Brian Grim and members of council Tuesday night.

Officials believe they’ll have to make some serious cuts — and change how the city does business in the years ahead.

“The next two or three decades are probably going to be some of the most challenging years in the history of local government,” city administrator Jeff Rhodes said at the close of an informal, two-hour budget hearing Tuesday night. “In some regards, I think communities are going to go back to the very basics of why they exist — whether it’s public safety, public infrastructure or what have you.”

Some of the grim facts facing city leaders as they consider the fiscal year 2013 budget include:

•The city is facing the loss of more than $500,000 because of an almost 6 percent decline in property values.

• Certain costs are going up, including employee health care and retirement benefits, which are expected to be around $136,000 in fiscal year 2013.

• The city is losing around $180,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds.

• And the city, which underwent a major debt restructuring last year, must continue to work toward building a $10 million fund balance in order to maintain positive debt ratings.

Council members informally agreed Tuesday night that they don’t want to raise the tax rate to make up for revenue lost due to a decline in property values. And they don’t want to dip into the city’s slowly growing fund balance.

“The long-term fiscal stability of the city is the priority,” councilman David Kauffman said. “So whatever we’ve agreed to as far as debt restructuring and creating a fund balance I believe is priority. ... This is a time when we have to say to citizens, ‘We’re going to evaluate and determine whether or not we have the ability to maintain the level of service that you’re expecting out of your city.’ We’re going to live within our budget.”

Council discussed a variety of options to reduce costs, including reducing trash pickup from twice to once a week, consolidating services such as code enforcement and tax collection with the county, exploring the use of alternative energy sources, increasing employee contributions to health insurance, and elimination of staff.

Council plans to meet in executive session at 5 p.m. Tuesday to discuss particulars about potential personnel changes, and it plans to discuss other potential cost-saving ideas during public meetings in the weeks ahead.

“We have to be creative not only about reducing expenses, but we have to be creative about raising revenue as well,” Grim said.

Contact Kristin Harty Barkley at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.