The Pine Bluff City Council Ways and Means Committee voted Tuesday to recommend a 2014 budget that eliminates several expenses recommended by other council committees in earlier budget negotiations.
The Ways and Means Committee, consisting of Ward Three Alderman and Chairman Bill Brumett, Ward Two Alderman Wayne Easterly and Ward One Alderwoman Thelma Walker, was joined by Mayor Debe Hollingsworth, Finance Director Steve Miller, Ward Four Aldermen George Stepps and Steven Mays, Ward One Alderman Lloyd Holcomb, Ward Two Alderman Charles Boyd and Ward Three Alderman Glen Brown.
Miller advised the body of the decision made by the administration committee to stay with insurance provider QualChoice, which includes a 9.9 percent premium plan cost increase.
“The city will pay the employee share of the cost increase,” Miller said. “This brings the cost to $207,000.”
The committee agreed to add the cost of insurance for employees of the parks and recreation department as well as the Grider Field Airport.
“The additional cost comes to right at $10,000,” Miller said. “This brings the total to $217,000.”
The committee agreed not to pay the employees’ increased insurance costs for the street department, the transit department, economic and community development, wastewater and all other commissions, with the exception of parks and recreation and Grider Field.
“This allows us to reduce the over-budget amount from $408,000 down to $342,000,” Miller said.
The committee looked into the possibility of paying for monthly utility bills for the Fire and Emergency Services Department out of a fund normally set aside for equipment purchases, but ultimately decided against it after hearing from Fire Chief Shauwn Howell.
“The Legislature passed Act 833 this year which allows fire departments to pay their utilities out of this fund,” Miller said. “This would free up money in the general fund.”
Howell said that such a move was not in his department’s best interests.
“We use money from this fund to purchase equipment during the year so this would really put the department in a bad situation,” Howell said.
The committee agreed to reduce the number of new car leases requested by the Pine Bluff Police Department from 11 to six.
“This will save $40,000,” Miller said.
Another $20,000 was removed when the committee agreed to cut that amount from the PBPD training budget set aside for an upgrade of the department’s SWAT facility at Grider Field.
The committee agreed to cut $50,000 in additional funding from the Summer Youth Program and another $50,000 from the UAPB Downtown Business Incubator to create an additional $100,000 in savings.
A savings of $2,813 was approved by the Committee in the form of an adjustment to the 2009 bond issue payment for 2014.
A savings of $6,399 was approved in the form of an adjustment to the budget for workman’s compensation.
The committee agreed to keep $30,000 in funding for the Parks Department that was added back into the budget by the Public Works Committee.
Larry Matthews and Lorie Walker of the Economic and Community Development Department presented the Ways and Means Committee with their proposal on how to reimburse the federal government for funds received from the Department of Housing and Urban Development that were mishandled.
“We are hoping to use non-federal funds to pay the money back over a three year period,” Matthews said. “This way the funds can be recycled back to the city. The city owes $358,947 to the Community Development Block Grant Program and up to $312,828 to the HOME Program.”
Matthews said that paying the money back is preferable to seeking a reduction in future funding because any reductions cannot be reclaimed by the city.
“If we pay the funds back, once they are recycled we will be able to use the CDBG Program funds for projects including the new community center,” Matthews said. “HOME Program funds will be used for anything related to home construction.”
Matthews said that under a three-year payment plan the city would repay $217,438 in 2014; $220,577 in 2015; and $233,761 in 2016.
“We have to repay the $150,000 used for the CASA shelter because no documentation was prepared to make it eligible for HUD funds,” Matthews said.
The committee gave Matthews approval to submit his proposed repayment schedule to HUD for its consideration.
Howell made a strong plea in favor of maintaining the fire department’s current staffing level of 102 personnel despite the proposed budget that would cut two firefighting positions.
“We have been understaffed for years and we were working to get up to industry standards,” Howell said. “This would take us in the wrong direction.”
Miller said that the personnel cuts could have been worse.
“We had six firefighting positions that were paid for by a federal grant that is not there anymore,” Miller said. “We found the funds to pay for four of those positions but we do not have enough for the other two.”