Georgetown looks at budget deficit

The city of Georgetown has a general fund deficit of more than $920,000 and Tuesday night City Council met to discuss how to bridge that gap.

The bulk of the shortfall is from a $350,000 increase in the city's health care costs and an estimated cut of $215,000 from the state local government fund.

Several ideas were thrown out by council members to reduce the shortfall, including cutting overtime and looking into putting the city under one cell phone carrier's coverage.

Inside the general fund, the police and fire departments both budgeted $70,000 each for overtime, and the administrative department has budgeted $21,000.

Councilwoman Jeanette Ard questioned why the city needs to spend more than $150,000 for overtime.

"Isn't it better to have an employee do a job?" she said. "If you work the employee till they're entirely burnt out then you have someone else out and need more overtime."

Much of the overtime is a result of the loss of employees, said City Administrator Chris Eldridge.

Since the end of its last budget cycle, the city has cut 13 employee positions from its budget, said Eldridge. He said that occurred through not filling positions that were open, seven of which were in the police department.

And Councilman Rudolph Bradley pointed out that overtime, while costly, is probably cheaper than to hire an employee who has to then be paid benefits.

"You have a choice," Bradley said. "You continue with overtime or you hire someone. I think overtime may be most cost effective."

Bradley said he thought the city could save money by having its employees use one cell phone carrier, rather than the three that are currently used.

Eldridge said one of those carriers, Motorola, is used for the police and fire departments' radios and has to be kept to allow them to communicate with other departments in the state. That costs the city about $2,800 within the general fund.

The other two carriers, Nextel and AT&T, are split between the different departments, he said. Those two plans cost the city a combined $3,265.

But Eldridge told the council there is another large concern they should be aware of: the need for a new fire truck.

He said there is little room in the budget for capital requests, but one of the city's fire trucks broke down while out at a call last week.

He said the truck is being repaired, but the costs for maintaining older trucks is high, an estimated $50,000 a year.

A new fire truck is estimated to cost $450,000, but Eldridge said the city can often get them for less than that.

"There's the real cost and then there's the cost of not making it to a call in time," he said.

Though not part of the general fund, council also discussed the funding for the Kaminski House and Parker Stewart House.

In the budget presented at the workshop, the Kaminski House received about $50,000 in hospitality and accommodations tax money, a more than $150,000 decrease from the current budget. The Parker Stewart House received $4,000 less.

Eldridge said those amounts were figured in and will stay until the Friends of the Kaminski House present their plan to make the two house museums more profitable.

Councilwoman Peggy Wayne said she thought the houses could be profitable if the city promoted them more.

"We need museums in Georgetown. You need things like this to advertise to bring people to Georgetown," she said.

But house museums are not likely to turn a profit, said Bradley.

He said the city was told in a presentation a few years ago that "it's very difficult to generate money from a house museum."

Other council members said they had confidence that the museum's supporters would present a positive plan to turn those houses into an asset for the city.

The Friends of the Kaminski House will present a plan to make both houses more profitable at the next council meeting on April 21.

The next budget workshop is scheduled for April 28.