Eureka Springs council approves changes to budget

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

By Samantha Jones

The Eureka Springs City Council continues to address how to handle the city budget during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, June 8, the council heard from finance director Lonnie Clark about an amended budget plan. The council voted May 25 to approve the budget Clark proposed, which included a 20 percent wage reduction for the fire department and would have eliminated the animal control officer position, and deferred a vote on reducing wages by 6 percent across the board to Monday night’s meeting.

Mayor Butch Berry said June 8 that the proposed 6 percent wage cut would result in a payroll cut of $3,037 for the mayor’s office, $4,722 for finance, $1,757 for the building official, $22,940 for police, $21,020 for fire and EMS, totaling $37,262 in the general fund. Berry said the proposed wage cut would reduce public works wages by $12,506 and transit wages by $12,024. Public works and transit are enterprise funds, Berry said, which means cutting those wages wouldn’t affect the bottom line.

“We could wipe those funds out to zero and it still wouldn’t help our general revenue,” Berry said.

Berry said the total wage cuts including public works and transit would total $62,193, saying he based that number on the last seven months of the year. Council member Terry McClung, who proposed the 6 percent wage cut on May 25, said he appreciated having the projected numbers available.

“It’s really not that consequential,” Berry said. “It’s not an effective cut.”

Council member Melissa Greene agreed.

“It’s not going to make any difference. I don’t think we should do it,” Greene said. “We’ve cut a lot of the staff down, and they’re picking up extra duties.”

Berry then presented an amended budget plan that did not include the 20 percent cut to fire department wages or the elimination of the animal control officer position. The proposed plan would result in a projected net revenue of $13,000 at the end of the year, Berry said.

“And that’s status quo,” McClung said.

Council member Harry Meyer said the animal control officer position is funded by citizens.

“If everyone paid their dog license … the animal guy would be fully funded without any problem whatsoever,” Meyer said. “Hey folks, you have to have a license for your dog.”

Council member Susan Harman recalled the council’s last meeting when Berry said he and Clark were cutting the budget to bare bones.

“If we’re at bare bones at a 22 percent decrease, then if something happened, this town doesn’t survive very long,” Harman said, “and to me, that’s troubling that we’re in that type of situation. I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet.”

She continued, “We’ve got a couple of months coming up where we’re going to have very little money that will be coming into the city. Business has been great since we opened up in the middle of May. We’re hoping it will continue to be so for the rest of the year, but we still need to be responsible and we need to watch it.”

McClung said the City Advertising and Promotion Commission has had a “soft presence” in the advertising market over the past few months, saying the commission kicked off a new marketing campaign on Monday, June 8.

“What we’re trying to do is convey to the general public … that Eureka Springs is open,” McClung said. “We’re going in the right direction in that respect.”

McClung agreed that the council should keep an eye on the budget moving forward.

“We have the responsibility to stay on top of this,” McClung said, “and if things go south, we have to go south with it, too. We should start seeing an increase. We just have to hang in there and wait it out, and we have to get out the axe if we have to.”

Clark explained the process of amending the budget plan, saying it started with the council’s request to cut the budget by 35 percent. Clark said he asked each department head to try to cut their budget by 35 percent.

“That seemed almost impossible without just really, really going into personnel and just almost eliminating the personnel in each department,” Clark said. “I think each department head did the best they possibly could.”

Clark said he reworked the budget plan the council approved on May 25, eliminating the wage cuts for the fire department and bringing the animal control officer back full time.

“What I’m asking you to do is pass this as the budget. Let us work with it,” Clark said. “We’re on it every day. We’re watching it. That’s not to say things can’t happen, but give us an opportunity. You have our full commitment.”

Meyer moved that the council “stick with this plan” until the mid-year budget review and the council voted unanimously to do so.

“Thank you, Mr. Clark, very much for your hard work,” Berry said, “and I want to thank all the department heads, too, for their diligence and belt tightening.”

In other business, the council heard from planning commission representative Ann Tandy-Sallee about proposed changes to the code regarding B&Bs. Tandy-Sallee said the proposed changes would alter definitions so that the language throughout the codebook is consistent. Council member Mickey Schneider suggested changing a part of the new definition to replace the word “meals” with “a meal.”

“This doesn’t have anything to do with meals. This has to do with the fact that the language on page 417 is totally different from the language on 451,” Tandy-Sallee said.

Meyer moved to approve the new definitions and the council voted to do so, with everyone voting yes except council member Bob Thomas.

Also at the meeting, the council deferred an appeal for a temporary entertainment district, accepted the 2018 audit and scheduled a special meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, June 15, to hear from a local group about community programming.

The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, June 22, at The Auditorium.

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