CORINTH — Corinth City Council members met Thursday night to discuss and identify the few loose ends in the budget they will have to tie up before it’s approved later this week.
After the proposed budget was presented to city council members in July, the council directed the city staff to make some additional changes based on recent events and new insight.
Changes made to the proposed budget since July included eliminating the proposed half-cent tax increase, eliminating $20,000 from the council contingency budget and reducing library funding from $98,000 to $48,000.
According to the presentation, if those additional changes were approved as presented, it would result in a surplus of about $35,000, Finance Director Lee Ann Bunselmeyer said.
“That’s $35,000 that the council has to allocate to other projects that they desire,” she said.
The council members seemed content with moving forward with the changes, but there was some discussion regarding how council members would use the additional $35,000 and what services would replace those lost if the city cuts its partnership with the Lake Cities Library.
Though the decision hasn’t been made official, council members continue to appear that they are moving toward ending their partnership with the library. Staff members said that the new drafted contract with the library only states that the city will fund the library through March 30, 2014.
“I would not support a $35,000 surplus,” Councilman Randy Gibbons said. “No matter what we need to do, we need to balance it because if we’re going to cut the library and then end with a surplus, that doesn’t bode well.”
City Manager Jim Berzina advised the council to use the surplus rather than cut taxes to absorb the surplus.
“I can’t tell you what kind of bind cutting taxes puts on an organization,” he said. “It’s not a good idea to cut taxes because we are still really tight and we are really on the line. You’re not in the position to cut.
The council does have the option to use the $35,000 toward possibly funding phases of pay increases for employees, officials say.
Back in 2005-06, the council approved a seven-year step plan, and the last year that plan was funded was 2008-09. Then, for about three years, the city froze the plan because of economic troubles that hit the city and state.
“We have a four-year deficit, if you want to call it that, based on the years we froze the step plan,” Bunselmeyer said.
But since freezing the step plan, the city has given across-department raises to make up for some of the years the step plan was frozen.
With the help of the $35,000, the city could shave off at least a year or more, depending on if the city staff identifies other additional revenue sources to fund the raises.
The cost of the phases is between $43,000 and $52,000.
But some council members said they are a little hesitant to use the $35,000 toward employee raises this year. Berzina said that the city isn’t completely over the economic troubles that hit a few years ago.
“We’re not out of that, yet,” he said.
He advised the council to be cautious because the budget is still tight, and he said it’s hard to predict what position the council will be in next year.
“We’ve gone through some rough times,” Gibbons said. “We took some hits and salary was one of them. But that’s all we could do, but we saved positions.”
However, Councilman Mike Amason said using the additional revenue toward city employees would be a step in the right direction.
The council members directed staff members to draft one plan that does not include the raises and another that does, for consideration Thursday.
During the budget discussion, Amason said he believes the council should probably budget some funds to go toward some kind of reading program or service for residents if the library partnership ends. He said it would send a message to residents that the council isn’t ignoring their needs.
Council members went back and forth on whether or not they should earmark funds or if they should pull money from other funds when the time comes.
Gibbons said he also believes the city should have some type of reading service, but he added that he does not want to earmark funds without knowing specifically how they will be used.
Council members will continue discussions Thursday, and they will consider approving the budget and the tax rate. The council meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Corinth City Hall, located at 3300 Corinth Parkway.
JOHN D. HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @JDHarden.