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City budget cuts needed in wake of $1.5 million shortfall

 

Posted 4/12/16 (Tue)

By Kevin Killough
First quarter revenue figures for the City of Tioga show state revenues are getting hit hard.
“It’s going to be a rough year,” said Mayor Drake McClelland at a special meeting Monday to discuss budget cuts in response to the plummeting figures. 
The city is looking at a $1.5 million drop from last year due to falling revenues from oil and sales taxes. That figure also includes losses from industrial water sales the city agreed to surrender from the Western Area Water Supply Authority as part of a deal to protect future revenues from water sales.
The mayor presented proposed budget cuts to each of the commissioners’ departments totalling $830,000. 
Commissioners agreed to  form a committee composed of Commissioners John Grubb and Todd Thompson. 
They will be meeting with the heads of city departments individually in meetings closed to the public to discuss further cuts to make up the remaining $670,000 budget shortfall.
McClelland said he doesn’t think the city will be able to operate if the remaining cuts are made, but he urged the city departments to find ways to cut anywhere they can.
This includes possible layoffs and cuts in benefits and perks. 
“We need to prove to the state that we’re trying to correct it to the best of our ability, and I know you will not find $670,000. But we got to make a strong attempt,” McClelland said to the commission.
About 48 percent of the $830,000 is from the police department’s budget, according to Police Chief Larry Maize. 
This brings the department’s budget down to about $500,000.
“We can’t do it,” Maize said. 
Maize had prepared a speech to present to the commission at the meeting, but McClelland closed the meeting to any public comment.
Originally, McClelland said the entire meeting would be held in executive session, but after consulting with the states attorney, determined to proceed with an open meeting.
Police Administrator Jeff Spivey protested the closure to public comment citing North Dakota Century Code that requires budget hearings to take input from the public.
City Attorney Ben Johnson said that applies to budget hearings that are done annually in October and not any commission meeting where the budget is discussed. 
Commissioner Ronda Davidson also expressed dissatisfaction that the police budget should bear such a large portion of the proposed cuts.  
“It’s not fair,” she said. 
McClelland requested commissioners come back with a report ready by Monday on what further cuts can be made, as determined in the meetings with department heads.