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.”