CRESTVIEW — City Council President Robyn Helt, saying taxpayers shouldn't be expected to "make up the slack" if the city can't live within its means, has offered a proposal for a balanced budget.
Helt's plan, presented during a Monday budget workshop, would come at the expense of four police officer positions funded by a Justice Department Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, grant.
Retaining the policemen would cost the city $194,960. Helt said the city had made no plans to fund the positions when the 2010 three-year grant expires this fall.
If integrated into departments' budgets and approved by the council, Helt's proposal would fund Police Chief Tony Taylor’s request to move his department's dispatch center from P.J. Adams Parkway to police headquarters in the Whitehurst Municipal Building.
It would also fund Taylor's CPD accreditation efforts; Library Director Jean Lewis' request for $20,000 in patron computer upgrades and $25,000 for book acquisition; and $74,843 to cover a small portion of backlogged street repaving.
In addition, Helt's plan would erase the current deficit in preliminary budget proposals, which department heads have whittled down to 533,000, while avoiding a millage rate increase.
Funding would come from a combination of budget savings, including no longer asking taxpayers to pay $276,988 for city employee dependent health insurance.
Other funds would come from not providing new funds for the four COPS-funded police officers and implementing a 5 percent increase in water rates.
By city ordinance, water rates should be reviewed annually, but haven't been in 14 years, Helt said.
Ongoing streetmaintenance should include paving 5 miles of city roads annually on a 20-year rotating schedule, but less than a mile has been paved this fiscal year due to funding cuts.
Councilman Shannon Hayes criticized the suggestion that city workers would have to pay for dependents' health insurance.
Helt sympathized with them, but pointed out that many taxpayers have also had to shoulder their own families' insurance costs and shouldn't also have to fund those of city workers' families.
"Did I lose another four positions tonight?" Taylor asked at the end of the meeting.
Helt said though her proposal includes not picking up funding for the expiring COPS grant, nothing was definite and she was open to further suggestions.
"We can't always make decisions that make people popular," Helt said. "I'm not in a popularity contest. I'm here to do a job."
Want to go?
The next City Council budget workshop will be 3 p.m. Aug. 28 at City Hall. Council members encourage residents’ input.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.