Making up a $1.68 million shortfall

Jefferson City officials are expected to move forward next week with a plan to make up for a $1.68 million budget shortfall, which will initiate cuts to every city department and some city funded events.

At a special City Council meeting Monday, the council discussed a detailed plan of how the city would cut roughly $1.68 million from the current budget. The plan was included in a bill introduced Monday and the council is expected to approve the plan at their regular council meeting March 18.

The council did vote to move forward with an early retirement program known as the separation incentive plan. The city’s plan includes an anticipated $150,000 in savings from the early retirement program.

On Feb. 25, it was revealed that the city is running a nearly $2 million shortfall for the current fiscal year and has been overspending in past years. At the time, City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus had proposed a series of cuts and measures to deal with the budget situation, including cuts to every department and an early retirement program to help achieve an 8 percent reduction in workforce. Those cuts are still featured in the plan approved Monday.

“It’s a conservative plan, it’s a flexible plan,” Nickolaus said.

Interim Finance Director Bill Betts said the plan details staff projections, which could change over time. He said the department will have to monitor figures each month and make sure no further cuts are needed.

“I don’t think this plan will ever be done,” Betts said. “We’ll review it every month.”

The plan includes a $15,000 cut to the economic development contract with the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce and a cut to the city’s recently started security screenings before council meetings. Betts said the security screenings, which began in November, will continue for municipal court, but eliminating the screenings at council meetings will save $8,000.

“They were tough cuts,” Betts said.

Some cuts in the proposed plan aren’t really cuts, but simply a transfer of funds. More than $200,000 in infrastructure projects is included on the list of cuts, but Betts said those projects still will be funded, though that money now will come from the city’s half-cent capital improvements sales tax.

Nickolaus said the cuts all affect essential services of city departments, but there’s nothing else to cut.

“It’s not a question of what are essential services,” Nickolaus said. “The question now is what are the most essential services.”

Third Ward Councilman Bryan Pope said what is considered an essential service now, may not have been anything more than a desire a few years ago.

“There’s been mission creep in what is essential,” Pope said. “I hope that there will be serious consideration as to what are essentials.”

Pope questioned the value of some positions over what he said are clearly essential positions, such as public safety.

During discussion, several council members were more focused on how the current situation would be carried over to the next fiscal year and what further cuts may have to be made in a budget process that will begin for council members in a few months.

Betts said some of the items documented in the plan are one time revenue sources that will not be seen next year. To make up those funds, the council likely will have to make more cuts.

“Our revenues have become flat,” Betts said. “We’ll have to cut every year or we’ll have to come up with new revenues.”

The council also voted to approve a $161,000 expense from the general fund for six police vehicles. Because of the added expense, 2nd Ward Councilman Shawn Schulte made a motion to direct staff to look for additional cuts of $150,000 to $400,000 from the budget, excluding public safety departments.

The council also approved adjusted figures for capital improvement sales tax expenses as figures are likely to come in below the original projections.

The new plan reduces the overall capital improvements spending from $26 million to $23.5 million.

The council is expected to continue budget discussions March 18.


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