By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Members of the Finance Committee of the Havre City Council tackled a projected $195,000 budget shortfall Tuesday night in the latest budget planning meeting.
Within two hours, the committee had closed the gap and did so without having to raise taxes.
The budget proposal - for operations, maintanence and personnel - will be presented to the full City Council in early August.
The spending proposal - about $3.7 million - does not including any funding for the Heritage Center. Committee chairman Tom Farnham said the committee and the City Council will take up that question on Monday night.
City Clerk Lowell Swenson gave the committee the projected shortfall for the first time Tuesday, based on next year's projected property tax revenue of about $1.24 million.
Anticipated spending before the meeting was about $3.7 million. That meant that after combining projected property tax revenues, nontax revenue and cash left over from last year, the city would be about $195,000 short.
By the end of the meeting, the committee came up with a combination of budget transfers and spending cuts totalling about $270,000.
The extra money will be needed to pay for capital outlay, health insurance premium increases and wage increases. The committee will take up those requests at a meeting on July 24.
Farnham said he thinks the city will make ends meet without having to cut personnel.
"We'll make it," he said. "It'll be very tight," he added.
Farnham said taxes will not be raised next year.
The committee has yet to determine how much city employees will be paid next fiscal year. The police department will be in the second year of a labor contract. The Fire and Public Works departments are negotiating new contracts this year.
Labor Negotiations Committee chair Jack Brandon said his committee will proceed with negotiations after they have numbers from the Finance Committee.
Farnham said last year's projected budget shortfall was about $85,000. This year is worse, he said, because of tax revenue is expected to fall. Final revenue numbers will be available in the first week of August, he said.
During the meeting, the four-member committee made up thousands of dollars by shifting money from the city's reserves and a separate account into the general fund and using the local- option tax, local taxes raised from license plate fees.
The committee made up $34,000 by transferring money from a special revolving fund used for street and sidewalk projects into the general fund, $104,000 by tapping 4 percent of the city's reserves, and $118,684 from the local-option tax.
The committee trimmed an additional $11,000 from the operating and maintenance budget.
The resulting $268,503 was more than the $195,000 projected shortfall.
Some things may still be cut.
Committee member Rick Pierson questioned the need for cell phones and car allowances for department heads when the city already has a motor pool and, in some cases, radios in the cars.
"You've got a point," Farnham said. "It's always a place to cut if need be."
But after the meeting Farnham said he thinks cell phones are important for some department heads in case of an emergency.
"I feel they almost need to have one so they can be contacted," he said, adding that car pool vehicles are not always running.
The committee also reviewed personnel change requests and let them stand until the next meeting.
The largest personnel change item, City Judge Joyce Perszyk's request for a full-time clerk, was carefully scrutinized by the committee.
"Can you get by without a compliance clerk?" Farnham asked.
Perszyk said she has no one to answer phones or deal with the high volume of paperwork in the court.
"We have so much paperwork coming in that we can't process it all in the amount of hours that is assigned to the court," she said.
Pierson questioned the $29,000 cost of the position. That includes benefits.
Perszyk said that is the starting level for city employees, including benefits, and said the position would pay for itself because the court would be more effective at collecting fees.
"It's going to pay for itself," Perszyk said. "If you can't collect in the first three months, you aren't going to get