By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Havre Fire Department heads had already submitted their budget requests for next year and gone home Monday night when the Havre City Council's Finance Committee had to put out a little fire of its own.
When committee chair Tom Farnham suggested cutting the mayor's annual travel and training allowance for next year from $1,000 to $950, that drew a curt response from the mayor.
Farnham said he was suggesting the cut because Rice had only spent about 70 percent of his travel and training allowance as of May 1. The fiscal year ends on Monday.
"You cut whatever you like, Tom," Rice said, adding that he pays for much of his travel expenses out of his own pocket. "You know how much I spend?"
Rice said that this weekend he has a trip to Calgary, where he will represent Havre in a July 1 celebration.
"That surprises me that you'd do that to me," he told Farnham.
Rice said he gets reimbursed for lodging, but does not turn in travel expense reimbursement forms for gas, meals and expenses he has incurred on various trips.
"I don't believe in turning that in," he told the committee. "If I wanted to turn everything in, it would be over ($1,000)."
Farnham reversed himself.
"We'll leave it as it is," he said.
Rice softened his position as well.
"Fifty bucks isn't going to break me," he said.
Committee member Rick Pierson added that $50 wouldn't break the city either.
Monday night's meeting was the second of three budget sessions during which department heads present their budget requests for next year to the Finance Committee. Tonight the committee will hear requests from the Public Works and the Park and Recreation departments. Then the committee will compile the budget requests and prepare a preliminary budget based on revenue estimates in late July or early August. Then the committee will meet with each department again to make further cuts. After receiving final revenue numbers in early August, the budget will be finalized and approved by the City Council in mid-August.
After discussing the mayor's budget, the committee shifted its focus to monetary allowances the city provides its workers for things like cell phones and car mileage, allowances Rice was quick to add he does not always support.
He said other things the city should have will probably get pushed aside in the budget crunch, like uniforms for city employees. Committee members agreed that when city employees show up in alleys and back yards to clean up from a storm like Friday's, they should be easily identifiable as city employees.
When the city couldn't fit the bill last year, Rice said he picked up the slack.
"I put about $3,000 of my own money into getting shirts for city employees," Rice said. "I would like the city to come up with at least 500 bucks" for a uniform fund.
But he recognized the odds may be slim.
"When you have a budget deficit ... then shirts are not a high priority on the list," he said, adding that the remodeling of the City Council chambers could wait.
The meeting highlighted the difficulty of trimming in the face of a budget deficit. Last year the deficit would have been $80,000 had it not been for a last minute infusion of cash from a special improvement district fund, Farnham said this morning.
This year, he said, that will not be an option.
Pierson summed up the tough situation Monday night: "If we're going to have a deficit, then we're going to all make sacrifices."
So far the suggested cuts have been minor, Farnham said, trimming $50 here and there. The police department, finance director, and city judge presented their requests on June 17.
The Fire Department budget presented Monday night is very lean, Farnham said, and no items were recommended to be cut at this time.
For now, the cut to the mayor's travel budget stands, Farnham said this morning.
"We've got to trim everywhere," Farnham said, but not without regret. "He donates a lot of his time and money. There's a lot of things he does and never asks to be reimbursed."