Grayson City Council met in a special session last Wednesday to attempt to reconcile department needs with the city's budget needs. While a final budget agreement has still not been met, council considered a number of issues, including making deeper cuts to the street department and to park and cemetery maintenance in order to shore up the fire department, which has struggled with making the requested cut of $70,000 to their initial budget.

The police department had also been told they would need to cut $70,000 from their proposed budget, which Chief Kevin McDavid planned to do by not filling two open positions in his department. But Mayor George Steele told McDavid that he believed the department could still fill those positions, one full time and one part time, if they worked to rein in overtime costs.

He also said that the fire department could help stem their costs by working to make sure they were properly reimbursed for the services they provide outside of the city.

These two issues, Steele said, were where he felt the problems with the two departments' finances were most glaring.

"Common sense will say we can't continue to provide (fire) service outside the city without reimbursement," Steele told fire chief Greg Felty.

Steele also told representatives from the street department that their budget would now be taking a hit, but that they wouldn't be losing anything they already had. Instead, the mayor explained, the city will be postponing street improvement projects they had planned to do in the coming year.

Parks, recreation and cultural expenses will also be cut in the new proposed budget.

The amount budgeted for cemetery maintenance, for example, will be reduced from $5,000 to $1,000. Likewise, money earmarked for park maintenance, repairs and upgrades will be reduced from $6,800 to $1,000.

"I think we can keep (the parks) up for less than $6,800," Steele said. "We have to decide if this is more important than (police and fire services.)"

Cutting those two line items added $9,800 back into the city budget, but Steele said he would like to stop there with cuts to parks, recreation and cultural activities. The gallery funds, he said, were still off limits.

"The art gallery is far too important to not support that," he said, noting that the gallery brings people into Grayson to spend money at restaurants and other local businesses. In addition to the money the gallery events bring into the community, Steele said, "it is a cultural experience that our people enjoy."

Felty noted that the $15,000 budgeted to the gallery was less than the fire department spent on utilities alone when they were in the same building.

Council also discussed making changes to their agreement with Pathways that allowed those involved with the Genesis Recovery program to use the senior citizens center rent free. Steele said that Pathways may have to start paying a $50 a day fee for use of the facilities, to help cover maintenance there. Others, however, said that the folks from Genesis may simply choose to stop using the senior center rather than paying the rent, so they couldn't immediately remove the $7,200 budgeted for maintenance of that facility.

It was the street department that took the biggest cuts, though. Steele took $5,000 from their tools and equipment line item, reducing it from $8,000 to $3,000. Resurfacing projects took a $16,600 cut, reduced from $120,000 to $103,400, while funds budgeted for street repairs, signs and ditch line improvement was cut by $10,000, dipping from $15,000 to $5,000. Sidewalk repair and maintenance took the largest cut, adding $20,000 back into the total budget by being reduced from $25,000 to $5,000.

"We can do without sidewalks for another year," Steele said.

With the $9,800 taken from parks and recreation, the total cuts from streets increased the funds available for police and fire to $61,400. That amount, however, still wasn't sufficient to meet the needs of the other departments.

The fire department's Kyle Morgan said that maintenance, repairs, and new equipment were the only places where the department could really make cuts. He also noted that the department was willing to cut their requested reimbursements for lodging, travel and meals associated with ongoing training.

"We're willing to give that up to keep the day crew," Morgan said, noting that one option would be to look into alternate training options that didn't require overnight travel.

Steele, however, said that the city didn't want to ask volunteers to cover those costs out of pocket, and asked if the department could prepare a budget of costs for serving people outside the city who did not contribute to the city's fire tax.

Morgan said the paid day crew had already responded to 314 calls this year, and that roughly 50 percent of those were outside of the city. This was not the total number of calls the department had reported to, Morgan noted, explaining that this number didn't include responses in the evening from the all volunteer crew.

"We're serious about keeping a high level of professionalism," Steele said of fire services. But, he said, people living outside the city will have to start paying for that service.

"We can't continue to provide free service... to people that don't (pay taxes) to the city," he said, also noting that "if I was in a (crushed) car, I'd be willing to pay $1,000 to be cut out."

Getting those funds, however, might require working with fiscal court to pass a county wide fire tax. Steele, however, said he thought it would be worth the money for county residents to pay a fire tax rather than to pay the higher fee for insurance in an area without a dedicated fire department.

The city will take up the budget issue again at their next regular meeting on Tuesday, July 9, at 5 p.m. 

Contact the writer at jwells@journal-times.com.

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