— By BRIAN SMITH
After several weeks of discussion and consideration of the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, Weatherford city council members have made their final changes before the $25.26 million General Fund budget is adopted at the Sept. 24 meeting.
Former police department employee Tim Galbreath was the only person to speak during a public hearing Tuesday night on the budget, asking the council to reconsider adjusting cost-of-living increases for retirees from 70 percent of the rate of inflation to 50 percent. For example, if inflation is running at 3 percent, the COLA to retirees would drop to 1.5 percent from 2.1 percent under the proposal.
Council member Jeff Robinson said adjusting the rate of return to retirees still keeps the city in the market of what other cities offer their retirees.
“We’re not cutting retiree benefits by any means,” Robinson said. “We’re simply slowing the increases.”
Galbreath said several times in recent years the council has balanced the budget on the backs of its retirees.
“Retirees expect what was promised to us,” Galbreath said. “Making cuts like these makes current employees wonder if they should stay or what kind of benefits they’re going to get if they stay with the city.”
Galbreath said he stayed with the city because of the retiree benefits he was promised, turning down other “better” offers. Director of Management and Budget Chad Janicek said benefits to retirees aren’t being cut under the proposal, just slowed.
The council considered either slowing the rate of benefits for retirees or not giving current employees a 2 percent cost of living increase, among other tough decisions. City Manager Jerry Blaisdell said the city is still trying to recover from cuts made during the economic downturn of 2008.
“We can’t get where we’re trying to get to without either raising taxes or cutting the workforce,” Blaisdell said. “We’re still chasing the street budget we had in 2008. We’re still chasing the money for nine employees that were cut in 2008.”
Mayor Dennis Hooks says the thought of “kicking the can” down the road and dealing with problems in the future has to stop. Council member Waymon Hamilton said the council has been between “a rock and a hard place” between wanting to maintain the services people expect and being able to afford them.
“No one has enough money to run their departments right now,” Hamilton said.
Blaisdell said he called his department heads into a Monday meeting and asked them to find another 2 percent to cut in their budgets.
“I trust them when they say they’ve looked and can’t do it,” Blaisdell said.
Janicek said the city has been looking at improving its efficiency in the way it does many things for years and suggested a long-term strategic discussion to get city departments back to their funding and employee levels of 2008.
In the end, the council opted to leave the city manager’s budget the same, giving present employees the 2 percent COLA increase while adjusting retiree’s increases to 50 percent of the inflation rate.
Other late cuts being made were to the funding given by the city to a number of groups. Three organizations: Center of Hope, Freedom House and the Parker County Committee on Aging had requested a combined $74,000 from the city’s general fund. The groups will receive a combined $60,000 with the PCCOA receiving $30,000 and the other two groups getting $15,000 each.
Four other groups had requested hotel occupancy tax monies. Two of the groups: Theatre off the Square and Texas Opry Theater received no funds. The Chamber will receive $114,529, down nearly $7,000 from a year ago, with the Doss Heritage and Culture Center receiving $13,471, more than $8,000 less than in 2013.
The city’s 2014 general fund budget takes effect Oct. 1.