Members of Milford's city council began their 2014 budget review process Tuesday, with a balanced budget. By the time the session recessed for the evening, they were left searching for additional money to fund a new park supervisor position with the Parks and Recreation Department.
A proposal to siphon off part of the position's $48,000 price tag from the police department sent tempers flaring, with Councilman Douglas E. Morrow openly criticizing City Manager Richard Carmean.
Finance Director Jeff Portmann began with a page-by-page review of the $41 million budget, which includes no property tax increase and a 3 percent raise for city employees. As Portmann finished, Finance Committee chair Councilman Allen "Skip" Pikus presented a list of requests, which had been made by various department heads and city organizations.
Pikus acknowledged that granting these requests would require additional, unbudgeted funding.
The council quickly struck down most of the items, which included a 15-passenger van for Parks and Recreation and an administrative assistant for Carmean, leaving only the request for a park supervisor, a request which came from Gary Emory, the director of Parks and Recreation.
"I'm 60 years old. I've been out there busting for a long time. I just can't do it anymore," said Emory. "I need somebody to help me out. We are growing by leaps and bounds. We're really at our wits end."
Emory said it wouldn't "be the end of the world" if he didn't get the position, but said the department might have to start cutting back services without the additional personnel slot.
"I would like to find some way to fund that position," Pikus said. "I'm not sure how we do it, [but] … it's imperative. I don't want to see Gary overworked and leave this city, especially right now because he has no one trained to take his place."
Council members came to the consensus the parks supervisor position was needed, then tackled the problem of how to pay for it.
Councilmen Dirk Gleysteen pointed toward the police department budget as a solution.
Gleysteen presented an overview of city budgets for the last ten years, observing the police department budget had grown by 70 percent or $2 million, while the general fund grew only by 25 percent or $740,000.
"The police department budget has increased at three times the rate as the rest of the city," he said. "Perhaps that's something to look into if we want to fund some of these projects. I think the numbers show that the city has really sharpened their pencil and maybe there's an opportunity for the police department to do the same."
Chief of Police Keith Hudson protested.
The only way for the Milford Police Department to cut its budget would be to cut services, Hudson said.
Page 2 of 2 - Councilman Douglas Morrow was not in favor of the idea of shrinking the police budget.
"We can cut dispatch," Morrow told the rest of council. "We can cut five officers and [then] your phones will be ringing off the hook."
Councilwoman Katrina Wilson encouraged Gleysteen to let the professionals do their jobs.
"Our city manager and our director of finance look at each department," Wilson said. "They are looking for ways to eliminate things that are not needed. That's what they do. That's what our city manager is paid to do. Before you brought this to the floor you should have let Mr. Carmean look at it and expressed your concerns with him."
In the end, Hudson agreed to give up $26,800 from his budget, which was going to be used for software maintenance, to help fund the park supervisor position, leaving the city council to find the difference of $21,200.
Carmean decided to withdraw his request for an administrative assistant, stating that he could make do with the staff he had. Emory did the same in the case of his requested 15-passenger van.
Council members recessed the meeting agreeing that Carmean, Portmann and the Finance Committee needed to put their heads together and find a way to come up with the money.
"If they can't come up with $20,000 by tomorrow morning we need to find a new city manager," Morrow said.
The panel was to reconvene the budget talks Wednesday evening.
Council members are scheduled to approve a final city budget during their June 24 meeting. The spending plan goes into effect July 1.
Note: The Milford Beacon went to press before the budget talks reconvened Wednesday. Coverage of that session will be provided online and in our June 20 issue.