Eureka Springs council approves budget cuts

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

By Samantha Jones

The Eureka Springs City Council spent much of its May 25 meeting discussing how to adjust the city budget to reflect reduced sales tax collections caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayor Butch Berry and finance director Lonnie Clark presented proposed budget cuts in response to the council’s May 11 request for an amended budget cut by 35 percent. Berry said the budget was cut to “bare bones” but some departments have a harder time cutting expenses than others.

“We can’t cut anymore,” Berry said.

Council member Susan Harman reminded Berry of the council’s previous request.

“We need to come up with a plan. We all know that, right?” Harman said. “We asked you for a 35 percent cut. This does not meet that.”

Council member Mickey Schneider said she “never, ever, ever” wants to cut the police and fire budgets.

“You don’t touch that stuff. You leave it alone,” Schneider said. “They save our lives. The people are number one. We have to protect them.”

Berry said he doesn’t know that it’s fair to apply the budget cuts to all departments and council member Terry McClung disagreed.

“I think it is fair,” McClung said.

“It’s up to the council to make that decision,” Berry said.

The council could vote to put the budget cuts for the police and fire departments back in the budget, Berry said. Harman said she couldn’t support that. Harman said the proposed cuts were at 22 or 23 percent, more than 10 percent less than the council’s request.

“I understand where you’re coming from,” Harman said, “but if we don’t have the money, it’s not going to work. Once the money’s gone and we’re not able to pay those bills … we will have no control over the city.”

Council member Melissa Greene said she thought the proposed budget cuts were appropriate.

“You guys did a very good job. It’s probably not what we asked for,” Greene said, “but I understand you worked very hard to get it done. You’re probably correct that we can’t cut a lot more.”

Council member Harry Meyer disagreed.

“I am disappointed in the police department. I think they can cut more,” Meyer said. “We have more police per capita than any city our size in the state of Arkansas.”

McClung moved to approve a 6-percent wage cut across the board and to eliminate city council pay, but city attorney Tim Weaver said the council can’t eliminate its own pay.

“Eliminating the council’s salary would be an illegal act,” Weaver said. “You cannot eliminate the salary. It can be voluntarily returned but not eliminated. It would be eliminating an issue that was already decided prior to the council being elected.”

McClung withdrew his motion and made a new motion to cut wages by 6 percent across the board.

“That’s a 6 percent cut on all salaries,” Harman said. “What is the number? We are making a motion on something and we don’t even know what that number is.”

McClung withdrew his motion and council member Bob Thomas made a two-part motion. City clerk Ann Armstrong confirmed May 28 that Thomas’ motion was to approve the proposed budget with the 20 percent wage reduction for the fire department added back in, and to vote on reducing wages by 6 percent across the board at the council’s next meeting. The council approved the motion 4-2, with Harman and Schneider voting against it.

Armstrong reiterated that the council did not vote to reduce wages by 6 percent across the board, instead agreeing to vote on the topic at its next meeting.

The council’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, June 8, at The Auditorium.

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