By BRIAN SMITH
Weatherford City Council members on Saturday began the process of going through the Fiscal Year 2014 budget.
The weekend work session included department heads explaining their portions of the budget and their proposed changes. Director of Management and Budget Chad Janicek said the day was designed to outline each department and allow the asking, and answering, of questions.
Other budget work sessions will be scheduled and hearings held before a final decision is made on the next fiscal year’s budget. The new budget year begins Oct. 1.
Council members will be adopting the budget without a 1.35-cent property tax increase previously proposed to pay for street maintenance. That was voted down at Tuesday night’s meeting. Thinking ahead, Janicek said city staff considered other potential cuts in the event the proposed increase was rejected. They include:
• Placing anticipated increases in fine revenue toward streets.
• Removing an office assistant for the fire department.
• Removal of a floating office assistant to help with all departments.
• Looking at other areas, including funding for school resource officers and highway right-of-way mowing.
None of these options have been voted on or firmly decided on but will be in the coming weeks.
Much of the morning session focus was on the police department. Chief Mike Manning said hiring good officers is a problem because of the city’s pay scale for starting officers, which falls about $5,000 below what other cities of similar size in the area are paying.
The median pay for starting officers is $48,567, with Weatherford starting its officers at about $43,900, Manning said.
“It’s hard to compete like that,” Manning said. “We’re having other departments steal good, qualified officers from us. Across the board, we need to be paying our officers and supervisors about another 10 to 15 percent.”
City Manager Jerry Blaisdell said this is happening not only in the police but fire department as well and has been a problem since budget cuts in 2008.
“We rely so heavily on sales tax monies to fund our city and that’s a volatile way to fund,” Blaisdell said. “We’re not going to balance any of this by relying on sales tax monies.”
Many department heads, including Director of Library Services Dale Fleeger and Director of Animal Services Dustin Deel, said many of their users come from outside the city, in some cases as many as 65 percent to 70 percent of their customers. Council member Heidi Wilder said asking the county to pay its fair share would aid in the cause as well.
“We need to get the county to step and help us with this,” Wilder said.
Fleeger said the library is ninth out of 11 area cities concerning its budgeted amount but is second per capita in its circulation and fourth in the number of hours it is open.
Jenicek said the Office of Management and Budget will spend $25,000 from its budget to fund a citizens’ survey to measure customer service, which council members and staff say is a top goal.
“We want to see how the public perceives our performance,” Janicek said.
The office is also working on ways to improve efficiency with a new finance program that can save two to three weeks of time a year by producing reports electronically, rather than manually inputting the data.
Director of Information Technology Troy Garvin said his department is asking for another vehicle, as five people are presently using two vehicles.
“In many instances, employees are using their own personal vehicles to do city business and that’s not fair,” Garvin said.