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Wednesday, September 18, 2019



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Lockport officials fail to pass budget

Lockport officials fail to pass budget



The Lockport mayor and Town Council have failed to agree on a budget for the fiscal year that began Monday.

As a result, the town is operating on 50 percent of last year’s budget. Officials say that money could run out in less than six months if the town doesn’t approve a new budget.

Typically, the budget is approved at least 15 days before the start of the fiscal year. Lockport staff members said this is the first time in the town’s history that a budget has not been approved.

Mayor Ed Reinhardt has proposed three budgets to the council without success. Only two were scheduled for votes after the initial budget proposal in May, but both failed for a lack of a second. Councilman Rodney Hartman brought motions to approve the budget, but no other members supported them so the motions died.

Just four days after his last proposal was rejected, Reinhardt said he’s not sure when he’ll propose a new budget or what it will include. The town’s budget is about $885,000 per year. The majority comes from sales taxes and about $80,000 from a property tax, which is currently maxed out at 8.26 mills.

For years, the town has been pulling about $60,000 a year out of its reserves to supplement its tax revenue.

“We’re not operating within our means,” Reinhardt said. “It’s time to stop this.”

At that rate, the fund balance will last another 10 to 12 years before the town would run out of money, he said.

But if there’s a major emergency, the town only has enough money in reserves to last one year, Town Clerk Mandy Himel said.

“The whole goal was to stop digging into the fund and keep moving forward,” Reinhardt said.

In May, when Reinhardt first proposed a budget, he suggested cutting $80,000, mostly from the police department, and putting about $40,000 back into the reserve.

The council said that was too much to cut, suggested cutting just $31,000 and not putting any money into the fund balance.

Reinhardt presented that proposal during a public hearing June 11 that would have cut $29,000 instead of $31,000, but the council rejected it. The new plan also included dipping into the reserve, this time taking out $43,000. The mayor, council and staff members discussed the issue well into the night, ending the meeting after midnight, Reinhardt said.

After that, the mayor called a special meeting June 28 to discuss his third proposal, similar to the last one. It too failed for a lack of a second. No one from the public spoke during the public hearing.

“This is a generous, very generous budget for the Police Department considering where we were at two months ago,” Hartman said at the latest meeting. “There’s not excessive differences in what we’re comparing this year to next year.”

The cuts center on the police, which has the largest slice of the budget at around $535,000 per year. All $43,000 that is being proposed to take out of the fund balance would support the police department.

About $200,000 of the police budget is funded through sales tax, grants, fees and other revenue. Reinhardt said he never proposed cutting police staff numbers. He also suggested eliminating the department’s $6,000 annual rent that typically goes into the town’s building fund.

Some council members want to see raises for the officers. Reinhardt said that would require cuts elsewhere.

“I’m in favor of giving the police department raises, but the budget has to be adjusted somewhere to make it happen,” stated Reinhardt.

Other members questioned why some staff members will receive raises under the proposed budget, which increases salaries by $32,000. If those employees get raises, so should the police officers, they said.

“I understand and appreciate the work and efforts of people on the payroll, but based on that and other things, I can’t see myself approving this budget,” Councilman Stephen Baudoin said.

The town spends about half a million dollars on salaries alone. It’s split almost equally between the town’s staff and the police staff.

The department has six full-time officers, including the chief, and a full-time secretary. The town has four part-time employees and three full-time.

“The bottom line is, we can talk about the Police Department, but we have to recognize eventually that the contribution they give to the town is worth a hell of a lot more than half of the salary,” Baudoin said. “I’m not saying the other side isn’t deserving as well.”

On the administrative side, Reinhardt said he’s been reducing employees from full-time to part-time, eliminated overtime pay and cut benefits for the past two years to keep up with declining revenue.

The town’s next regular meeting is scheduled for July 16, but a new budget proposal won’t be ready by then, Reinhardt.

The budget has to be available for public viewing for 10 days before the council can vote on it.

It may be two or three months before another budget meeting is called. In the meantime, staff members said they’re doing what they can to cut expenses.

 

-- Daily Comet Staff Writer Julia Arenstam can be reached at 448-7636 or julia.arenstam@houmatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaArenstam.