Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

August 20, 2013

City budget workshop provides no answers

By Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — A Corsicana City budget meeting ended Tuesday afternoon with no clear consensus on what to do about the ambulance service’s $1 million deficit and the county’s reluctance to pay what the city is asking the county to contribute.

County and city leaders met Monday afternoon to discuss the county’s offer to pay $275,000 for ambulance service to the rural parts of the county, instead of the $350,000 the city is requesting.

The city still also has to decide whether or not to add three new EMTs that have been requested by Fire Chief Donald McMullan, an additional cost of about $150,000, which would deepen the deficit hole even further. Still, the idea of hiring the three additional people was supported by councilmen Tom Wilson and John McClung.

The rest of the council has until the first September meeting to decide what they want the city to do.

The ambulance deficit is the result of fewer ambulance runs, less from the county and the city pulling more from the EMS fund for administrative reimbursements. The city asked the county to contribute more, and the city also agreed to take out less for administration costs. It will still take about five years for the fund to recover, according to Ginger Richardson, city finance director.

Wilson pointed out that the county isn’t paying its fair share on most of the services it receives from the city, including animal control and library, as well as ambulance services.

“I think it’s a shame we’re cutting the library and senior citizens (center), and city services because they’re not paying their fair share,” Wilson said.

No one recommended cutting the county off from city services, but there were suggestions of an annual library card fee for non-city residents, or an ambulance surcharge for runs outside city limits, or a flat fee for the animal shelter.

City Manager Connie Standridge said she opposed the library card fee, which could cost as much as $100 a year per person.

“Most people who use the library won’t or can’t afford that,” she said. “I, for one, think books should be free.”

The city is facing a budget shortfall because of lower property tax revenues for the upcoming year, as well as the loss of a grant and some other factors. The actual impact is $820,067 less in revenues than in 2013, Standridge said. The 2013 budget was $17.8 million. The proposed 2014 budget will be $16.9 million.

The solutions to a loss like that are to cut spending or raise taxes. Corsicana is taking the recommended approach of cutting spending. The tax rate will remain the same as last year’s, but it means fewer capital project purchases — a new street sweeper is one of the few big buys this year — but incremental cuts everywhere.

One significant addition to the budget is a 2 percent across-the-board pay increase for all city employees, an attempt to remain competitive in the market.

Human Resources Manager Pam Gibson said the city is having a hard time filling certain positions, for example, police officers and heavy equipment operators. She said finding people who are qualified for the jobs, who can then pass background checks, are obstacles. Pay is another factor, according to Standridge.

The city will spend $345,000 on street repairs this coming year, of which $100,000 will be spent in precincts 1,2 and 4. Precinct 3 will get $30,000 in street repairs this upcoming year because that precinct is also undergoing the Collin Street bond reconstruction project, a multi-million bond project. The downtown district will get $15,000.

The budget has to be finalized and passed by Oct.1, the start of the new fiscal year.

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Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “sound off” to this article? E-mail: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com