Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Athens City Council Cuts Budget

by Drew Schaar

The City of Athens faces nearly a half million-dollar budget shortfall this fiscal year. City Council looked at ways to cut expenses at its meeting Monday night. Their solution was ordinance 0-11-09. Essentially, it lays out areas in which the city can trim budgets appropriated to different city departments. That includes police, fire, and sewer. Mayor Paul Wiehl says, "We're anticipating less revenue because of income tax. There have been layoffs and the university is trying to cut their budget down a bit. So what's going on right now, what we've trimmed are mainly services."


Here are the proposed cuts:
Mayor General Fund - $45,000
Auditor General Fund - $30,000
Law Director General Fund - $5,000
City Council General Fund - $10,000
Lands and Buildings General Fund - $77,000
Police General Fund – $15,000
Fire General Fund - $25,000
Code Enforcement General Fund - $30,000
Parking Enforcement General Fund - $5,000
Sewer Maintenance Fund – $136,000
Sewer Administration Fund -$3,300
Sewer Plant Fund - $54,500

Overall, the cuts add up to a total of $459,000. Mayor Wiehl says, "Basically what we can anticipate at this point is less seasonal work and less money for overtime being available." At the council meeting on Monday, members discussed how the beautification of Athens could suffer. Seasonal planters and flowerbeds along Court Street and in other areas of the city could remain bare this summer season. Also among the lists of services was the clipping service, where the city would pick up and haul away your yard waste. Wiehl says that's a service they don't charge for now, but will probably be eliminated in the future. Bottom line he says, "General services will suffer."

The city is cutting everything that is not absolutely essential. Even still, services like fire and police may suffer. Wiehl says each year they usually replace some of the police cars, and this year he says, "That is obviously not going to happen." Budget cuts could mean less personnel as well. Wiehl says, "Basically that means less people out there to respond" and adds, "Hopefully we won't have to dip into layoffs. That's the biggest concern right now." Mayor Wiehl said, however, that when positions are cut, overtime for the remaining employees becomes an issue. He says, "It's a tricky balance."

Mayor Wiehl explains the cuts


Sewer funds are also on the chopping block. Overall, that department's fund was cut by over $215,000. Mayor Wiehl says a lot of the yearly maintenance and upgrades are being cut back. With the city's aging infrastructure that could easily spell trouble. Wiehl said if the sewer funding were cut, then the city would have to look into increasing water rates to reflect the need for new costs.

Mayor Wiehl talks about water and server cuts

Athens resident Ian Blair says, "Anything like [the budget cuts] I think could be a problem. As many times as fire alarms are pulled in this town, I think that could be bad, too." He adds, "With all the kids in town and everything, on a heavy drinking night…I think that could cause some problems…especially with females and domestic violence."

Athens resident Ian Blair reacts to the cuts

The City of Athens is working on projects that could be "shovel ready" for the stimulus package if and when it gets passed. The hope is that if these projects are waiting and ready to get started that funding from the stimulus package can be used to fund those projects. Right now, Mayor Wiehl says the city needs to upgrade their water treatment plant. There are also a few projects the city would like to do with the water and sewer system its self. Right now, the city is working on making some of those projects "shovel ready." Wiehl says, "Ready-to-go activities mean you need to have a design and a plan ready, which costs money to do. It'll be harder to get the money for those stimulus packages." He says if those projects are designed properly, they could easily get rolling, despite the city budget cuts.

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