What the Cluck: Let’s Cut the Budget

Fox-in-HenhouseOur columnist Tiny has retired from writing and we have turned over his “Ask My Dog” column to the chickens. Chickens know exactly what’s going on in the coop and loudly warn when there is a fox in the henhouse.  Welcome to our new column “What the Cluck” in which we address things people are clucking about around the city.

Today’s column will address some seemingly contradictory statements made by Alderman Dennis Waldron, who is now campaigning for mayor.  On his door hanger flyer, he promises to reduce the tax burden of hard working families. Yet in a newspaper article today, he says he will not cut the tax rate back to 50 cents (which he has promised to do in face-to-face meetings with citizens around the community).  So what’s it going to be?  Let’s take the high road and say he changes the tax rate (in fiscal year 2015-16 because the budget and tax rate have already been approved for 2014-15) from $1.00 to $.75.  That would cut city revenues by approximately $1.875 million per year. That means that a house valued at $150,000 will see a tax reduction of $94 per year. What is $94 per year worth to you?  What would it look like to cut expenses and services that is costing you (your household) $94 per year?

  • You can’t cut debt payments or the city will be in default.  Our credit rating will drop making it more expensive to have the ability to purchase necessary items.  The problem here is Alderman Waldron said in the DNJ that he would not have raised taxes as much and instead issued more debt.  So essentially, he would be costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in higher interest rate payments.
  • The library costs $675,088 per year to operate. They are already closed on Sunday.  Let’s say we cut their budget in half.  The Library would then have to close several days a week because there would be no money to pay staff.  If staff is cut, there would also be no story time programs, limited time to check out books, a limited time for residents to access computers (something many unemployed depend on when seeking jobs). But that’s $337,544 we have saved.
  • Close the Senior Center. It costs $141,734 per year to operate.
  • Cut the Parks & Rec budget in half.  Their current budget is $994,350 to maintain the parks, host things like 4th of July, Parade of Lights, mowing, and more.  If we cut $497,175 from that budget, there would be no more baseball or softball league or football league. Grass in all the parks would reach knee high before being mowed.  City events would be canceled (even the much-loved Old Timers because even though it is now a break-even event, there wouldn’t be adequate staff to plan it.).
  • Cut the Codes Department staffing.  We say cut the Codes Department because Mr. Waldron has told numerous people that cutting Codes is one of his top goals because they have dared to cite his family for multiple codes violations. That budget goes from $453,743 to (half) $226,871.50.

Where are we now?  We are trying to cut $1.875 million.  So far we have cut $1,197,324.50 from our budget by closing the Senior Center and then cutting Parks & Rec, Codes, and Library budgets in half. Those city services could be viewed as more expendable than things like public safety.  Note we are not cutting fire department because back in 2010 the city had been locked into a 10-year contract that offered no wiggle room on reducing costs (paying about $120,000 per month in profit to the owner of the company). Alderman Mosley (at that time) voted NO on the contract and Alderman Waldron voted YES. We are not cutting fire because we are holding Alderman Waldron accountable here for that vote.  Still we must cut $677,675.50 from the would-be mayor’s possible tax-reduction if he is elected as mayor.

  • Culture funding costs $136,244 every year. That is money that goes to Meals on Wheels, the Smyrna-LaVergne Food Bank, and more.  Wait.  The alderman said he supports relief for seniors. Because Meals on Wheels serves seniors and disabled, we can’t cut that completely. Instead we will cut the culture fund in half to $68,122. There goes the boxing program for troubled youth, there goes rehab support for our fire and police personnel for long emergency scenes in bitter cold or searing heat. There goes Read to Succeed funding for LaVergne.
  • The Public Works budget is $654,000 per year, so cutting it in half we would save $327,000 per year. No more streets can be repaved – it’s pothole fixes only.  The remainder is probably what the city pays for the chipper service offered to residents, so citizens can now haul their own limbs and lawn debris to Florence Road for disposal (approximately 75 TONS per month in the summer).
  • Cut the grant writer position. Salary plus benefits might be about $75,000.  Of course, that means no more Governor’s Highway Safety grants so no more alcohol saturation patrols or DUI checkpoints. That means the project of building sidewalks to schools located in the city would halt. Greenway expansion would stop.  This means a drastic reduction in quality of life for all residents.
  • Cut the PR position. Technically that position has already been cut. Those responsibilities are now those of the Assistant City Recorder, so no money saved there.
  • Therefore with $213,553.50 left to cut, we must finally look at the Police Department. Cutting that money would mean we probably lose overtime pay and/or reduce staff.  This means less protection.  Our city is finally recovering from years of police mismanagement where favored people were able to get tickets fixed and crime was rampant.  Our crime rate – with proper funding and proper leadership – is now at its LOWEST LEVEL IN A DECADE.  But that’s okay. We would have to cut somewhere and nothing is sacred, so cut we will.

This, our readers, is what it could look like in our city if our tax rate is lowered to $.75.  This would save each of our households $94 per year.  Is it worth it?


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