September 5, 2012 Edition

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WR budget woes cause layoffs

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

A special meeting was set by the city council for last night to meet with the mayor and city department heads to discuss possible layoffs or cut backs in personnel, but some of these decisions have already been made. On Friday, six city employees were laid off due to budget problems. Mayor House said three street department workers, a full-time police officer and two part-time officers were told last Friday was their last day. One full-time mosquito control employee and three part-timers will be laid off in the middle of this month and the code enforcement and building inspector jobs have been consolidated into one 30-hour-a-week job.

Mayor House said he heard the message from the city council to reduce the budget, and payroll is the largest expense for the city. He met with all department heads, heard their recommendations, and asked them if they wanted him to make the layoffs or go before the city council in a public forum.

"They asked me to make the layoffs," he said. "As mayor, that is part of my job. It is an extremely painful thing to have to do, but it is the responsibility of the mayor."

Making the layoffs before the upcoming special council meeting also saved the city between $8,000 and $10,000, according to House.

The mayor said he hopes to be able to put most of them back to work in the spring.

"We are not broke," House said. "Last month we had $127,000 in the general fund and $85,000 in our general fund savings account. We'll have close to $150,000 revenue in September as well as a franchise tax boost in October. We had an overly optimistic budget, sales tax revenue that didn't keep up with expenses and an increase in the cost of gas and insurance.

"We allocate $40,000 a year for council members' insurance plus their $100 a month salary," House said. "The cost of our employees' insurance is another big expense."

City services will continue despite the cutbacks, according to House, although city dumpsters will only be available during fall and spring cleanup.

"No city service will be cut off, although mowing may be a little slower getting done. We have to live within our means and we certainly don't want to increase taxes," House said. "We want to make sure the government works as effectively as possible using our taxpayers' money."

Fire Chief Frank Owens has been working on changing the city's land lines and Internet service from AT&T to Suddenlink which will bring substantial savings to the city. And another bright spot in the city's cell phone charges is that an $871 bill for downloading media on an employee's phone proved to be an errant bill. The phone did not have texting or media capabilities and the charges were issued in a billing error. AT&T is in the process of reimbursing the city for that error.

"Several plans to save the city money have been put into effect during the past several months," House said. "It will just take a little time for the budget to reflect the savings being made."

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