SPRINGDALE -- Mayor Doug Sprouse on Dec. 22 will present to the City Council for approval a 2021 budget little changed from the $52,036,280 budget he introduced last month.
The mayor will add to the 2021 budget $50 a month raises for members of the Planning Commission and remove $90,000 by eliminating a new position in each of the information technology and engineering departments.
The council next week will have the opportunity to approve the mayor's budget, amend it or reject it.
The council met Monday for nearly two hours of discussion about the budget -- namely uniforms and travel and training.
City staff projected revenues of $50,068,380 and a $1.9 million deficit in the budget, which some council members looked to close. Some also wanted to reduce spending in general because of uncertainties faced in the new year with a new presidential administration and the covid-19 pandemic.
Council member Amelia Williams opened the meeting with a proposal to cut in half both travel and training and uniforms in every city department.
The city's total proposed budget for travel and training is $489,900, with $325,000 for the police and fire departments. Other departments would total $164,000. Halving the budget would save $244,950.
Cutting the total $279,500 proposed for uniforms would save the city $139,750. But $26,500 of the total is tied up in a multi-year contract for those uniforms, pointed out Brad Baldwin, the city's director of engineering and public works.
"They represent the city," said council member Jim Reed of the Public Works staff. "They are the front door for our city. Are we going to send them out in pants but no shirt, or in shirt with no pants or a uniform full of holes?"
Council member Mike Overton suggested a 4% across-the-board cut, which would save $2 million, or the deficit, leaving city staff to determine the cuts.
"All we have to do is vote on it," he said. "Once it's out of our hands, it's up to the mayor to decide where to cut."
"I think that would be a huge mistake," Sprouse said. "I understand negotiations, but cutting those in half seems like you're cutting with a machete.
"What's confounding me is ... why the gyrations?" he continued. "As many tough budgets as we've had ... and we're in the best financial footing we've been in years. Where have you lost trust?"
Sprouse initially said he would cut the travel and training budget. "But it will be a hard pill to swallow. And I won't cut uniforms.
"If you don't agree, you can come up with your own," he continued. "You will vote my budget up or down. If you don't approve it, then you come up with your own budget. That's according to state law."
State law requires mayors to present city councils with their proposed budgets for the next year by Dec. 1. The council has until February to approve it, but the council would have to approve a special spending allowance if a new budget is not in place by Jan. 1, explained Wyman Morgan, the city's director of finance and administration.
"Saving $84,000 on police department uniforms is a drop in the bucket," said council member Kathy Jaycox.
"I understand you have to start somewhere," she said. "But it doesn't open a Pandora's box if you leave the $2 million in the budget."
"It seems like a drop in the bucket for most people, but it's a lot of money for others," Williams countered. She said she would rather see that money used to help pay sports registration fees for children for families who couldn't afford them.
"Just because it's in the budget, doesn't mean you have to spend it," said Morgan. Money not spent stays in the general fund, he said.
Williams said she would prefer to leave it out of the budget and department heads could make requests to the council if the money is needed.
After the meeting, council member Mike Lawson commended the council for the discussion. "As much as people got irritated with each other, it was a good, healthy discussion," he said.
Sprouse said the travel and training budget looks similar to last year's even though training and other professional development programs -- and the travel expenses required to get city staff there -- were canceled because of covid-19. Many departments were able to receive the training through online resources, but those have proven expensive.
Sprouse said his concern comes if the shutdowns are lifted this year. "How much training will we have to catch up?" he asked.
Professionals in many of the city's departments from the city attorney's office to the engineering department to the fire department are required to receive a certain amount of training each year to keep their certifications.
The state mandates 24 hours of training for police officers to keep their certification, said Chief Mike Peters. "We're struggling to get that in."
Two drug recognition experts in the department have lost their certification,which is vital now that medical marijuana is legal, he said. Two accident reconstruction experts are about to lose their certifications.
It costs the city $800 to outfit a police officer for the street, Peters continued. "If he goes out and rips his shirt tonight, that's $50."
Laurinda Joenks can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWALaurinda.