The Camp Verde Town Council pulled out the budget knife last week and made some difficult decisions in an attempt to balance the budget for the upcoming 2008-09 fiscal year.
The new budget is about one million dollars less than last year’s proposed budget, an economic necessity in a town that depends on sales tax for much of its revenue.
Council members are already accustomed to tightening the purse strings.
The slowing economy has reduced sales tax revenue nearly 25 percent, a fact that in part forced the council to cut $1.8 million from the current year’s budget.
The new $5.3 million budget is nearly balanced, but at a cost. After several meetings and looking at what the council felt needed to be funded next year, there was a nearly $430,000 gap left to fill.
After meeting with town department heads, Town Manager Michael Scannell came up with a list of recommendations that the town council seemed to agree with. The town must approve a balanced budget by June 30, the last day of the 2007-08 fiscal year.
Notable casualties on the chopping block included funding for a new library.
While a recently formed non-profit organization is raising money for a larger modern library, it had hoped to take advantage of some town funds.
Library Director Gerry Laurito had shot for the moon with a request of $4 million, trimmed to $200,000 after Scannell looked at the budget. But with the new numbers in, Scannell said the town just couldn’t afford to spend money on something that wasn’t absolutely necessary.
The same went for the hopes of a new animal shelter, which saw $100,000 in proposed construction funding slashed from the town’s capital improvements fund.
It’s time to cinch the belt Scannell said, but it’s also time for the town to face the facts and plan for its long-term goals given the economic reality.
That reality means that some aspects of providing services will have to suffer in the interim, Scannell said, citing town streets. It would cost $1 million a year to simply keep the town’s 100 miles of road, Scannell said. This year, the town can only afford $675,000, including money for fixing roads torn up by the current sewer expansion project. It’s a situation Scannell called “very problematic.”
“It’s my opinion that the town of Camp Verde faces an economic struggle with declining revenues,” Scannell told the council. “I think we ought to engage in strategic planning as soon as possible for the long term.”
Town departments make sacrifices
To help fill the budget hole, many town departments agreed to give up some of their funding. The Parks and Recreation Department gave up $10,500 for new software and the Camp Verde Marshall’s Office cut out $15,000 for new evidence lockers.
The pool will be cutting back hours, closing at 6 p.m. instead of 8 p.m., and closing entirely on Mondays, if the council approves the budget.
Travel costs were reduced, along with funding for office supplies, furniture and training, although Scannell said he didn’t feel comfortable cutting back too much on training expenses.
“[Cutting training] is not the best option,” Scannell said. “[Our employees] invest in us and we should invest in them … but there’s just no funding.”
There may be cut backs in training, but Scannell said his number one priority when coming up with proposed cuts was to avoid laying off staff at all costs.
In fact, Scannell recommends putting money in the budget to hire a consultant to look at town employees and come back with recommendations that could bring their salaries in line with other municipalities in the region.
Town employees did not receive a cost of living raise last year, Scannell said, and keeping salaries competitive is important when a town is trying to attract and retain the most qualified people for the job.
“To maintain the esprit de corps, it is critical to avoid layoffs,” Scannell said. “ … It’s fitting and proper to compensate our employees fairly.”
While the budget seems nearly balanced, the council might soon have to look for another $25,000 to $30,000 in cuts if it agrees to partially fund a new administrator for the Camp Verde Sanitary District.
The town, under an existing agreement with the district, was already supposed to be managing the day-to-day affairs of the district.
But after a series of unforeseen derailments, the town and district haven’t been able to come to a new agreement. The district had hoped to have the town pay for a portion of the salary for a sewer administrator, which at first seemed off the table after the town’s most recent budget meeting.
“We’ve had a revised [inter-governmental agreement] on the table since [January] and we haven’t heard one word,” Councilmember Ron Smith said. “At this point, it’s water under the bridge. We’ve got our own problems right now. It’s too little too late. There’s a time for everything and theirs’ has past.”
While other council members seemed to agree at the time, the door was left open at a special Sanitary District Board meeting last week when Councilmember Norma Garrison, council liaison to the district, told the district board that the town council would need something in writing from the district before making any decisions.
District Chairman Gregg Freeman said he understood that the council had agreed in principal to fund a portion of an administrator’s salary.
Whatever the town council decides, they will need a new liaison to the sanitary district. Garrison resigned from that position the next day.