The Blytheville City Council's Finance and Purchasing Committee spent about two hours Thursday night tackling the proposed budgets for Waterworks, the Wastewater Department and Parks and Recreation Department.
Waterworks manager Gary Phillips submitted a 7 percent cut in an alternative budget, as requested by the committee, though asked that the Council consider the previous proposal instead. Thursday night, Phillips did propose a reduction of approximately 3 percent to the Waterworks Department budget from $2,470,074 to $2,396,774, according to Councilman Tommy Abbott, who chairs the committee.
Parks and recreation director Elroy Brown, who is responsible for five budgets, lobbied that the board not cut parks and recreation. He proposed no changes in Ritz Civic Center (only recently moved to his supervision), Blytheville Youth Sportsplex and Delta Gateway Museum. Their respective budgets are $45,000, $171,115 and $87,578.
Brown offered less than a 1 percent reduction in City Parks and Pools from $371,208 to $368,208 and reduced the Thunder Bayou Golf Course budget by approximately 2.5 percent from $550,811 to $536,811, according to Abbott.
"This is a net decrease for all Parks and Recreation departments of less than 2 percent," Abbott said, adding the total numbers decreased from $1,225,712 to $1,209,212.
Abbott had asked Brown to chop off at least $60,000 from the original budget.
Meanwhile, wastewater superintendent Kenneth Ellis was unable to attend, but the board studied his proposed budget, which has approximately a 1 percent increase from $1,898,389 to $1,909,772.
"Including all departments tonight, we were offered a net decrease of just over 1 percent from $5,594,175 to $5,515,728," Abbott said. "Including the departments from both nights the change to the budget is almost a wash. After a net increase of about 1 percent on Monday and a decrease of 1 percent tonight, the totals for all 14 departments went down from $12,957,716 to $12,955,774. That is a net difference of $1,942."
"I will remind you again that these are the proposals from the departments and are not final until we recommend them as a committee and ratify them as a City Council," Abbott said. "Please take time in the next few days to consider further changes. We hope to finish our discussion with Public Works director Marvin Crawford on Monday with enough time to spend discussing the final budget."
Phillips said Waterworks operates solely on revenue, using no tax money. He pointed out, though the department has made big gains since his arrival in 2011, it is still trying to dig out of some huge holes.
Phillips noted one of the big challenges this year is at the water treatment plant, which dates back to the late 1960s and early 1970s.
While the Water Department fixed more than 200 curbstop leaks last year, Phillips said the treatment plant has been losing approximately 70 million gallons of treated water annually from the butterfly valves that send treated water into the distribution system.
He pointed out the city has purchased two new valves, at $5,000 a piece, but installation will be $7,000 each and a third valve also needs replaced.
The Arkansas Department of Health has asked that the city lower the 37 percent water loss from 2011 (pumped versus billed for) to less than 18 percent, Phillips said.
Another key issue is collections.
Phillips said approximately $50,000 a month is not being collected.
"That's a far cry from what it was," Phillips said. "When I came here in 2011, I checked back in 2008 and 2009 and I found some months they were as high as $100,000 and I found one month that was $185,000 between what we billed and what we collected. Collections are up substantially, but we still this past year only collected $2.6 million out of $3.27 million billed. We are working very hard to close that gap."
The new proposed budget shows projected revenue billing at $3.3 million and projected revenue collection at $2,644,000 for 2013.
Councilman R.L. Jones asked Phillips about the $1 million surplus he projected last January for 2012.
Phillips said more than $500,000 went to the city when it needed funds for payroll and insurance, while another difference is what was billed but not collected.
Waterworks also spent more than $150,000 in new equipment and repairing curbstops and mains, he said.
According to Phillips, BWW's surplus was $168,000 at the end of the year.
According to figures, the original proposed 2013 parks and recreation expenditures were up $77,669 when adding in the $45,000 Ritz Civic Center line that was moved from General Administration this year. The total income in 2012, including the parks and recreation tax, golf course and pool receipts, was $1,176,827.
"There's some places in here that you can take a hit better than other places and you probably don't want us (choosing the cuts)," Abbott told Brown.
Brown pointed out the parks and recreation money is fairly new, and there are new things now in place like the six-man cutting crew, parks and recreation director, items not in last year's budget.
He argued to have a top-notch parks and recreation program, the city must spend some money.
Brown said the Walker Park pond's fish-kill will need to be addressed, along with the lack of lighting at Williams Park, to name a couple.
"There's a lot of things we need done," Brown said. "From a park and recreation director's point of view, it wouldn't be feasible to go and cut 7 percent of something we haven't had in the past, if we want to move forward."
Brown noted Thunder Bayou Golf Links is beginning to be "whipped into shape. It's looking good."
He said the city needs to advertise the golf course regionally. Councilwoman Missy Langston suggested asking for funding from the City Advertising and Tourist Promotion Commission, which is charged with drawing tourist to Blytheville.
Abbott said in 2012, Thunder Bayou totaled $540,607 in expenditures versus $436,668 in receipts. He added he was surprised to see it only cost taxpayers $114,143 or $9,511 a month.
The Finance Committee will meet again at 5 p.m. Monday in the Municipal Courtroom.