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Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Auditor, mayor address concerns

By William Kincaid
CELINA - City auditor Emily Stewart and mayor Sharon LaRue are addressing concerns some residents have raised about the city's $1.124 million general fund carryover.
LaRue read a written statement at the regular council meeting Monday, while Stewart fielded several angry responses at a recent Grand Lake Patriots meeting.
"Since early spring of 2010, we had been talking about putting an issue on the November ballot to increase the income tax (to 1.5 percent)," LaRue read. "In July, when the auditor told us that a $1.056 million deficit was projected for the end of fiscal year 2011, the decision was pretty much made for us."
On Aug. 2, the issue was certified to be put on the November ballot. It passed 1,848 to 1,590, LaRue said, adding that the voters had spoken.
LaRue said when the books were closed for fiscal year 2010, the report in mid January revealed a $1.124 million carryover. She said this left council members and administrators holding a bag of mixed feelings.
"On one hand, this amount of carryover would be cause for celebration," she said. "On the other hand, all year long we had told the employees and the residents that we needed extra revenues to keep employees employed and to keep the residents safe."
Upon reflection, LaRue said the right decision was made.
"Because we did what we had to when we had to," LaRue said. "At the beginning of July 2010, the projected numbers told us that we were headed for a disastrous end of the year if we did nothing. We asked for help from the employees and they made concessions, some of which caused personal and family sacrifices for them."
Concessions and cuts made by city employees, appropriations not spent by department heads, and higher revenue allowed the city to have a much greater carryover than anticipated, LaRue said.
"The departments did what the administration asked them to do and spent only what was necessary," LaRue said. "As a result, potholes keep growing, water lines keep breaking and getting patched instead of being replaced, equipment keeps getting older and more costly to maintain and in some cases less safe for our employees to use, and the list just keeps growing."
Stewart, who spoke to more than 30 people at a Grand Lake Patriots meeting, tried to dispel a misconception that with the $1.124 million carryover, the city had a $2 million turnaround. The city was projecting a $1.056 million deficit by the end - not the beginning - of 2011, she said.
Stewart explained that she had to submit the 2011 budget to the county in July and finances changed since then.
"And please know our budgets are dynamic," she said.
One attendee asked if the concessions made by the city's union employees were lopsided in comparison to cuts agreed to by the administrators. Stewart said department heads took pay freezes, adding that safety service director Rick Bachelor works part time and receives no insurance.
LaRue, who also was at that meeting, said she makes $15,000 a year and gave $1,035 back to the city.
"I don't know if that means anything to anybody or not," she said.
After Stewart went over several financial figures, attendant Ron Luebke stated the need to dig deeper.
Luebke said according to Stewart's own figures, the city had more than $977,000 carryover available in September - well before the November election.
People thought the city could lose safety services and the city had almost $1 million in September, he said.
Stewart said city figures and projections were discussed at every meeting.
Luebke said he never got any figures like that.
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