City Commissioners Discuss Failing Finances

City Manager Presents Options For Budget

At the regularly scheduled City Commission meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 12, City Manager Tim Bennett discussed the deteriorating financial conditions that the City of Madison is facing.
Bennett outlined options for the City Commissioners to look at and consider, prior to the upcoming budget workshop on Tuesday, Aug. 19, at 5:30 p.m. Cutting the Madison Police Department was still on the list of options Bennett presented, however, he stated that cutting the police department was politically not an option.
The City of Madison had previously received the CHRP COPS Grant to hire additional police officers. The grant required that the police department maintain a certain manning level to keep the grant. The commissioners voted to relinquish rights to the grants. In the letter that will be signed and sent to the U.S. Department of Justice, it stated that the city will no longer have to fill the COPS Grant Office position required by the grant and that the city is looking into reducing the police department by one police officer.
Police Chief Gary Calhoun asked the commissioners at the meeting if he could have a consensus from the commission about the police department’s fate because he has 14 employees that are unsure of what to expect. The consensus of the commission was that while cutting the police department was not the route they were looking at, they had to look at all the options and determine what was best for the city.
The other options that Bennett presented to the commissioners included eliminating Charles Hitchcock’s position as Director of the Community Development Department, reassigning his assistant, where she would retain her current duties along with adding additional responsibilities. The building inspection responsibilities would go to the county.
Under this option, it would also have to be decided who would take over the planning responsibilities, either Madison County or Bennett and the Planning Council. Another alternative for the Community Development Department is to do all of the above except replace the Purchasing Director with the Community Development Department director and have Jack Sealey, the current Purchasing Director, retire.
Other options included: outsourcing the Sanitation Department; reducing the Madison Fire Rescue, Water Department and Natural Gas Department by one position each; have Madison Fire Rescue firefighters contribute more towards their own pension; have the Superintendent of the Public Works Department continue working as the city mechanic and not hire a new city mechanic; and eliminate three positions in the Public Works Department and have an inmate crew assist in the Public Works Department.
According to Bennett’s options, the City is currently not filling the superintendent’s position and a maintenance laborer position within the Wastewater Department.
Bennett also recommended to the commissioners to increase the water, wastewater and natural gas rates for the City of Madison. Energy Vision conducted a rate review and evaluated the monthly service charge and the distribution charge. The monthly service charge is a fee for having natural gas connected and the distribution charge is the cost of getting the natural gas to the customer’s resident. Energy Vision stated that the natural gas distribution rates had not been increased since 1997. Shaun Sheffield of Energy Vision recommends raising the distribution charge from $0.42 to $0.65. This is calculated by charging $0.65 per Therms used.
The 2014-2015 budget has not been decided. The first budget workshop will be Tuesday, Aug. 19, at 5:30 p.m. The next regularly scheduled meeting, and the first public hearing of the 2014-2015 budget, is set for Monday, Sept. 8 at 5:30 p.m.

I met with the police department Friday (Aug. 8) morning at 8 a.m. and the first thing out of my mouth was for them to understand that the police department is not going away. It is politically not going to happen.” -Tim Bennett

City Of Madison’s Downward Spiral

The city’s financial troubles are not the result of one action but the culmination of decisions over years. The deteriorating financial reports result from General Fund expenditures exceeding the General Fund revenues. The city has been offsetting the General Fund deficits by transferring funds, primarily from the Enterprise Fund, into the General Fund. The Enterprise Fund includes the city’s Water, Wastewater, Sanitation and Natural Gas funds. The city transferred a total of $1,840,874 to the General Fund in 2013. According to Bennett, the city would have been in a financial emergency status this year except that they were able to write off $500,000 of the $1,840,874 transferred so they did not qualify. There were shortfalls in the firefighter’s pension funds. For 2009, the pension was short $42,300; for 2010, the pension was short $80,100 and for 2011, the pension was short $23, 100. The police pension was short $17,100 for 2011. The city is now ensuring that the pensions are being fully funded so as to not encounter this issue again. According to Bennett, the ITT Superfund site has been a major expenditure through the years. The ITT/Superfund site is located off Rocky Ford Road in the county and a former Madison County Landfill, which once belonged to the city. EPA has designated it as a Superfund site due to past disposal practices. The City of Madison, Madison County and ITT Corporation of Anaheim, Calif., are working together to identify and mitigate any pollution that may have occurred at the site. The city along with the county just spent $99,000 to purchase property as part of the mitigation efforts. Other expenditures include the purchase and training for new finance, utility billing and USA Law Enforcement software, a three percent raise for city employees and $25,000 for police mediation.

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Jessie Box

Written by Jessie Box