WILLIAMSON – When faced with the option of laying off city employees or increasing city fees, the Williamson City Council voted to increase various city fees during Thursday’s council meeting to address the cities’ financial crisis.
At a special meeting of the Williamson City Council held last Thursday, the council went into executive session to discuss personnel matters. Upon exiting executive session, council announced that personnel would be tabled until the next regular meeting. Following the announcement, rumors concerning a reduction in force at the Williamson Police Department (WPD) circulated among city residents.
At Thursday’s regular meeting, Officer Joshua Tincher with the WPD approached the council during public comments to address these rumors. “I’m Officer Tincher with the WPD. I have been hearing a lot about layoffs and I would like to personally ask the mayor and council to come out and speak with us, maybe do a ride along and see what and all we do…We are very short staffed. I would like you to come out and see how we work before we consider laying anyone off.”
Councilwoman Sherri Hairston- Brown responded stating, “This is one thing I want to say. I have done ride along with different police officers and I know exactly what you have done- what you all do…They are hardworking people. Your job is not easy. The fire department, what they do, is not easy. When I go to bed tonight, I am going to bed with a good heart. Let me tell you something, I am not going to do what you think I am going to do because I can’t. When I needed to go to Maple Walk to get it under control, I took a police officer with me. I didn’t have to but they went with me to get it under control. I have been doing this job going on eight years. Hopefully, I can do it for eight more years. I be dog if I go to bed tonight with a heavy heart…”
Williamson Mayor Robert Carlton spoke next stating, “Clearly, whenever there are city struggles with finances, there are several ways to deal with that… It is a decision that the council has to make as to what level of service they want. That is on the agenda, to talk about financial issues.”
TIncher responded stating, “I just want to add that is not just my department. It is the fire department and down to the cleaning lady… It doesn’t go unnoticed. I just feel like we are very short staffed and what we do have works hard in all departments and all city members. We can’t afford to lose anyone.”
Later in the meeting, council held the first reading of an amendment to a business license ordinance that will allow business licenses to be raised from $5 a year to a minimum of $50 a year. The council also held the first reading of an amendment to an ordinance concerning Business and Occupation (B and O) taxes. The amendment will allow an increase of 25 percent from current B and O taxes. The first reading of a Sanitation ordinance that will allow the city to bill customers monthly for trash service instead of quarterly also took place at Thursday’s meeting. Copies of the ordinances are available in the City Clerk’s Office at City Hall for any resident that is interested in obtaining one.
Carlton continued the meeting stating, “Next up is other fee increases recommended by the mayor. I don’t think it is news to anyone that the city is having financial problems due to various reasons. As a result, it is my goal to try to increase revenues and reduce expenses. As you can hear from the comments already this evening, it is a controversial thing anytime you want to raise taxes but it takes a certain amount of money to run the budget and some of the fees and expenses and increases haven’t been visited or raised in a long time.”
Carlton then addressed parking meter fines. Currently, a parking meter fine is $1. Carlton stated, “Charleston, Huntington and all the cities have gone to a $5 minimum parking meter fine and if not paid within ten days it goes to $25 dollars. I recommend that the council make a motion to improve the increase from a $1 minimum to a $5 minimum and if the fine is not paid within ten days that it automatically increases to $25 dollar. Do we have interest in increasing the parking fees to generate revenue?”
Councilman Smith made a motion to approve the parking meter fine increase. The motion was seconded by Hairston-Brown and was passed unanimously.
Carlton then suggested that the cost be raised for reserved parking meters. “There are several reserved parking meter spaces within the city. Those are currently paying a fee of around $75 dollars for three months. I am requesting that the reserved parking meter fees be raised to $50 per month, making it $150 for three months.” Following discussion, the council voted to raise the cost for reserved parking meter spaces.
The council then discussed an increase on monthly trash collection bills. Carlton stated, “We were looking at what it cost to operate certain portions of the city, it became apparent that the cost to operate the garbage collection and then pay Pike County the fees to dispose of that was considerably more expensive then the revenues we were receiving. As a result, I had recommended a $6 increase in the garbage collection fee over its current rate of $20 plus a $4 emergency fee, making it go to $30 dollars. It was discussed some last week by council and I would recommend that again to council.”
After a brief discussion, Hairston- Brown made a motion to increase the trash collection bill by $4 instead of $6. The motion was seconded by Smith. Before a vote took place on the motion made by Hairston- Brown, Councilwoman Judy Hamrick requested that the public be informed of the results of the different trash bill increases.
City Clerk Larry Brown stated, “If we increased the bill by $2 a month that will increase revenues by $24,000 (per year). If they pass $4 a month, it will increase $48,000 and the $6 a month would have been $72,000.” The meeting continued without a vote being taken on the garbage collection increase.
The discussion continued with Carlton explaining additional revenue the city is pursuing including an ambulance service. Carlton stated, “Unless these revenue streams we created increase substantially, we are probably looking at losing two police officers and a clerk. That is not something that we want to do. I hate the thought of it but we must balance next year’s budget. Last year’s budget ended up drawing down what little bit of rainy day funds the city had. Those rainy day funds are not there any longer.”
Hamrick responded stating, “Mayor, I don’t understand. You said that under some circumstance decrease it by two officers and a clerk. Where is that coming from?”
Carlton stated, “It is coming from the fact that last year’s budget had included in it revenues of $150,000 from money being pulled from the savings account. That was money that was not available. Even with those counted as revenues; we are currently not able to pay all the bills as it comes toward the end of the year. That is why we are switching things to being paid monthly to try to generate quicker revenues. The extent of the indebtedness as I see it is to the tune of $350,000 that we would be short on next year’s budget. With these increases, my estimate is that we are probably still $75,000 to $100,000 dollars short with what revenues we have increased. That is my evaluation of the budget.”
The discussion continued among council with members of the public also offering comment. The meeting continued with council addressing items listed on the agenda. Personnel matters were listed on Thursday’s agenda. When the council arrived at the personnel item listed, Carlton stated, “I would like to say that because the council has done such a good job of raising revenues this evening, I think that we may well avoid some layoffs and that is great. As we all know, you increase revenues and then you don’t have to worry about expenses as much because you have money to pay it. If you don’t have money to pay it, then you have to reduce it. We are going to take a look at it in about three months and see where our revenues are. Council will then make a decision whether revenues or good or not and what they need to do next.”
Williamson City Council meetings are held on the second and fourth Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. in Council Chambers at Williamson City Hall.
(Courtney Harrison is a news reporter for the Williamson Daily News. She can be contacted at [email protected] or at 304-235-4242 ext. 2279.)