By ASHLEY AMASON
The DeFuniak Springs City Council agreed to a one dollar per hour raise for employees making less than $13.50/hour at the Aug. 2 budget workshop. The suggestion came from Councilman Mac Work after the Council rejected Financial Director Sara Bower’s suggestion to give employees making less than $40,000 a 3-percent salary increase.
The city cut $1.7 million in expenditures in the upcoming year’s budget, which was not balanced at the Aug. 2 meeting. “Cash flow is OK,” Bowers told the Council, despite a $1.3 million budget shortfall.
Bowers explained prior Councils balanced the budget with reserve funds in the hopes they would not be used. Mayor Harold Carpenter added, “It’s the only way [to balance the budget].”
Work countered, “I like to balance budgets based on the merits of the budget,” to which Carpenter asked, “Can you give us a true value of revenue.”
Bowers said aside from salaries, the city’s greatest expenditures were wells, lift stations, and other big ticket repairs.
Work questioned the feasibility of cutting 5 percent. Bowers answered, “I don’t know that you can cut 5 percent across the board…any more cuts is a cut into services.”
Interim City Manager Kelly Schultz added, “We have painstakingly gone through line-item by line-item…we feel we have to come to you and say ‘we need some direction.’”
Councilman Ron Kelley suggested partnering with Walton County to eliminate duplicate services. Work announced he had already placed that item on Monday’s agenda (Aug. 8).
Work asked if CH2MHill could hold off on its $18,000 increase. A CH2MHill representative answered the increase was a direct cost for power. In short, “No.”
Councilman Kermit Wright asked CH2MHill’s profits from its contract with DeFuniak Springs. The representative answered four percent, roughly $55,000.
“ City Marshal Mark Weeks announced the DeFuniak Springs Police Department cut $143,187 in the upcoming budget. The equipment budget was reduced from $60,000 to $8,000 and the cruiser fleet replacement was “scrapped.”
“What’s left is just to pay the bills,” Weeks said.
Wright and Work clarified an alleged rumor that the Council was considering eliminating the police department. “I don’t ever intend to get rid of our local police department” Wright said.
“I’m like Kermit, I’m not subbing out the police department,” Work added.
The Council agreed to form a committee to determine the future of the former health department building on U.S. 83, after Carpenter’s declaration that it was “time to make a move: tear it down or remodel.” Weeks volunteered for the committee.
Kelley said, “I believe the city could [rehabilitate] that building.”
Wright suggested allowing the Boys & Girls Club Teen Center of DeFuniak Springs to use the south wing, which would not be suitable for a future police department should the city relocate it to that building. In exchange for a 10-year lease, Wright said, the club would “put a roof on [it].”
Currently the city has a budget of $80,000 for the former health department building.
Closing the budget workshop, the Council’s consensus was to balance the budget with reserves, despite hesitation. “I’m wary of leaning too much on reserves,” Kelley said.
In a phone interview with The Herald, Bowers confirmed the city would balance the budget with reserves. “That’s the plan at this point in time,” she said. The total budget projection is not yet available, awaiting insurance and salary changes.