CRESTVIEW — City department heads have trimmed some $290,000 off the first round of preliminary budgets, but there is still $615,817.21 to go, City Clerk Betsy Roy said.
"The happy, happy, happy news is the utility fund is balanced," Roy said during an Aug. 7 Crestview City Council budget workshop.
However, the general fund’s deficit is based on the higher tentative millage established as a budgeting threshold. To maintain the current millage, even more cuts will be necessary.
Salaries, pensions and benefits for the city's 200-some employees comprise a major part of the budget — “and it's got us strapped,” Council President Robyn Helt said.
The city cut $137,000 off the earlier budget when the insurance broker negotiated employee health insurance at no increase with Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Finance Director Patti Beebe said.
Helt suggested one way of lowering expenses is to ask city employees to pay more of the health insurance costs for their spouses and family members.
"I cannot ask 22,000 residents of the city of Crestview to provide 50 percent of employees' spouses and dependents' healthcare," Helt said. "If they can't do it for their own families, how can they be expected to do it for the city?"
None of the council members wanted to raise taxes, an action that Councilman Thomas Gordon called "hitting low-hanging fruit."
"When you're in the grocery line and you have a hundred dollars in your pocket and the bill comes to more than that, you start looking to put some things back," Gordon said. "It's time to put some things back."
Crestview Fire Department Capt. Jim Poirrier, president of the firefighters' union, said his members are eager to help Chief Joe Traylor find savings, including reducing pension costs.
"It is not the intent of the union to drive costs up for the city," Poirrier said. "The union is here to help, not to hurt."
Resident Edward Landrum said he, like many citizens, wouldn't mind paying a few extra cents for water and sewer rates to help maintain services at their current level.
Both are areas where consultants have encouraged the city to raise revenue. Gordon observed that rates for water and sewer haven't been increased "in years."
Saying his department is providing the same level of service at budgets lower than they have been in 10 years, Public Works Director Wayne Steele challenged other department heads to follow suit.
"If I can do it, every dadburn person in this room can do it," Steele said. "I have tried to be an example of how to do it but it's hard ... I challenge everybody to look hard and do what you need to do."
Department heads are again revising their proposed 2013-14 fiscal year budgets. Steele added that work on the 2014-15 budget should begin the day after the next fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.