The Smyrna Finance Committee met Thursday to discuss the town's possible $290,000 deficit and while there was some discussion as to what could be cut out of the budget, committee members passed a motion to hold the current budget for the time being.
The meeting started with committee chair Robert Johnson going over the current revenues and expenditures for the town thus far in the year. Questions quickly arose when some committee members asked if the town could use budget reserves to address the shortfall.
Town Manager Dave Hugg said money has accumulated over the years to the tune of $511,000 and this general fund reserve is potentially available to address a deficit. Hugg also explained why the town had a $290,000 spending restriction in the 2013 budget.
"What was done in November basically was two-fold," Hugg said. "We felt when the 2012 end of year numbers came in, we would have a clearer understanding and we'd be able to see how 2013 was playing out."
The numbers were supposed to be reviewed earlier this year but this wasn't done.
Gary Stulir, manager of accounting & business services, said most of the departments in the town are under budget; their expenditures are under budget but the revenues are as well.
As the committee discussed the extent of a possible deficit, it was noted that if revenues continue to be on the low side the town could face an ever larger deficit.
Then talk shifted to what could be cut from the budget. More specifically, Johnson wanted to know if any of the equipment the town is set to order later this year could be put off a year.
Hugg said there comes a time where a piece of equipment has reached its maximum value and no matter how good the maintenance is, the piece of equipment reaches a point where the maintenance begins to fail and the cost to fix problems increases. The town is currently using equipment that's 20 years old or older.
"Can $250,000 in heavy equipment be postponed until next year…yes. Do I want to do it…no. Am I comfortable doing it…no," Hugg said. "As long as you understand it's definitely a problem and I'm going to need it in next year's budget, I can put off purchasing the equipment until 2014."
Committee member Biff Newnam said he's uncomfortable with the town putting off the purchase of heavy equipment until next year.
"That's why we're in the problem we're in," Newnam said.
Committee member Andrea Rodriguez said the town shouldn't use the reserves like it's a piggy bank and using the reserves is just a temporary fix.
Then committee member Larry Graf brought up property taxes in Smyrna.
"The property tax rate is one of the lowest in the state…it's significantly lower," Graf said. "We need to face the reality that we have not dealt with this properly. We should've raised [taxes] a little each year."
Eventually a motion was passed to keep the budget as is but the town would continue to keep an eye on the revenues and expenditures.
As talks continued, there was talk of whether the town should do a hiring freeze. Some committee members also said they want more direction from council before doing the 2014 budget.
After the meeting, Hugg said the town will cautiously go forward.
"We're not in panic mode, it's a structure issue," Hugg said. "The message is we have good solid reserves."
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