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Clarksville City Budget Session Highlights Continued

 

City of ClarksvilleClarksville, TN – Transportation – City Bus Service – The Transportation Department has a proposed FY 2012 budget of $5,227,826.  Of that amount, $682,150,00 would come from fares and other revenue.  Federal input is around $1.9 million, state input around $792K and a Jobs Access grant of $400K.  The remaining money would come from the city in the amount of $1.43 million.

In general, the Transportation budget is funded 47% Federal, 19% State and 34% Local.  Transportation is asking for about a $334,000 increase from last year.  Ridership is at record levels and the last fare increase was in 2007.  Ridership should be at or over 800,000 before the current budget year is out.  In May 2011 ridership was 66,262 versus 51,951 in May 2010.  Based on great ridership and that the last fare increase was almost 5 years ago, I believed that fares should be increased to offset the cost increase.

I made a motion to reduce Transportation’s part of the city budget by $200,000.  I looked at the fares we charge versus the other four larger cities in Tennessee.  We are on average 15 to 25 cents cheaper.  Fare increases in that range can make up the difference.  In addition, the average taxpayer that owns a vehicle has to eat the cost of higher fuel bills for their transportation needs.  I think it only fair that those who ride the bus need to pay a bit more for their transportation needs instead of the taxpayer covering the cost for them.

After I made the proposal, another council member asked for the Transportation Director to come up and state what a cut in city support would do.  The Director, who runs an outstanding department, stated that the city might have to stop bus service.  Given I had studied the budget materials and offered a proposal to increase fares to offset the loss in taxpayer money, I did NOT support his response.  He also cited that ridership dropped after the last fare hike.  That drop was actually less than 1.5% (.015) and ridership rose the next year by 9.8%.  In addition the director wanted to compare our fare rates to Johnson City TN and Jackson TN.  Johnson City has half our population and 40% of our land area.  Jackson has about half our population and about 50% of our land area.  We are about the same in land size with Knoxville TN and 30K to 40K behind Chattanooga TN and Knoxville TN in population.   So I am not sure such comparisons mean all that much.  I think the truer measure is gas has gone up, we offer a good and safe ride, and our current fares are undervalued for the service provided.

The vote was taken and the cut failed in a 6-yes & 7-no vote.  I voted yes, I believe the mayor voted no.

This vote set the tone for most of the higher ticket items that could be cut in the proposed budget.

Fire Department

Originally, fire asked for three major vehicles; a pumper at $275,000, tanker at $160,000 and rescue at $150,000. I contacted the budget folks about a mistake I had found that listed the rescue truck in one total, but not in another. I had planned to cut that truck as a reduction in the budget, but it was cut by the staff in one list and not the other. In the end it was out completely.

The tanker is a very seldom-used truck, but is over 35 years old. Given it’s seldom used, I asked that the purchased be delayed and cut it from this year’s budget. That would save another $160,000. The vote was 6-yes & 7-no. I voted yes and the mayor voted no.

Councilman Burkhart requested to add an additional pumper at $275,000. The Fire Department had not asked for two pumpers and the vote was 3-yes & 10-no. I voted no.

New Personnel

Almost $500,000 for 15 new personal are being added in the new FY2012 budget.  Most would not go on the books for one or two quarters to reduce the cost in this year’s budget. However, their full yearly salaries will add almost $200,000 to next year’s FY2013 budget. 

Two of the new personnel positions for Building & Codes will actually cover their costs and equipment and make some money.  The city will start doing and charging for electrical inspections versus the state doing them and collecting the money.

Except for the inspectors, I believe the remaining personnel increases should be held off.  I was able to eliminate one position at a savings of $47,400 (8-yes & 5-no) but failed to eliminate another at $72,000.  In fairness, the $72K position was to be funded from G&W and CDE.  However, until the smoke clears from CDE, I asked that we hold off to make sure we will get our money.  My request was defeated in a 6-yes & 7-no vote.  I voted yes to cut and the mayor voted no.  I also tried to cut another position but lost that vote in a 3-yes & 8-no vote.

Other

A series of cuts were offered by myself and a few other council members.  The only sizable one was cutting $160,000 from a park fencing project.  I was able to get the council to reduce, by $8000, the money set aside for our ICSC trips (Las Vegas/Atlanta).  As you will recall, these are the trips where we sell the city to potential new businesses to start operations in Clarksville.  I am 100% behind these trips, but having gone to Las Vegas and seen that operation in person, we can cut costs (fewer people going) by at least 40% and still do a good job.  The Atlanta trip is done on a shoestring already.

It has been interesting to note some comments made during the budget review and votes.  It seems cuts or transfers of money will result in dire predictions of no service or that we will have to lay workers off.  These doomsday responses do nothing to instill confidence in the public and overshadow that we do have an organization with very highly talented workers and managers that have found solutions to many problems to include bouncing back from several natural disasters over the years.

More to come later.


About Bill Summers

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