August 8, 2013 10:13:28 AM
During a city budget workshop Thursday, Columbus council members cut an $860,836 deficit for next year's budget in half before agreeing to Mayor Robert Smith's request to break camp and discuss further cuts individually with department heads.
The deficit was greater than council members initially thought. At the first budget workshop they were unaware that there were equipment requests from each department that the city would have to purchase out of the general fund.
The first cut was made to appropriations, which are set aside for area entities like the arts council, the public library and Main Street Columbus, among others. Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong had originally suggested setting that amount at $1,456,585 -- about a $145,000 increase over the $1,313,757 set aside for 2012. The council ultimately agreed to fund the programs at the 2012 level.
Another cut was made when councilman Kabir Karriem suggested Chief Financial Officer Milton Rawle do away with about $100,000 budgeted for new hires. This would prevent two part-time employees from being promoted to full-time and eliminate two hires for the city's public works department that were originally budgeted for.
The council then began looking at the list of equipment requests. The first two to go were two Chevrolet Tahoes -- one for Smith that would have cost $45,000 and another for the Columbus Fire Department that would have been $28,000.
"Mayor, I hate to bring this up, but is there any way we could possibly cut your vehicle?" councilman Bill Gavin asked Smith. "I know you need a new one. I've been in (Smith's current) vehicle and I know what it's like."
"If that's what the board wants to do, I'm not going to argue," Smith said.
The council then chopped $60,000 requested by the information technology department for a new virtual server to replace the current one, which the city has used for seven years.
Other cuts, including the Trotter Convention Center and the airport, were made, eventually bringing the deficit down to $498,476 before Smith suggested meeting with department heads individually.
"When I meet with department heads, I can tell them point blank, 'Look at your budget. Tell me what your priorities are and what you need to cut,'" Smith said.
Rawle noted that there will be a slight insurance increase that has not yet been factored into the budget, which will add to the deficit.
Discussion was brought up about cutting a used drug analysis machine for $45,000 from the list of equipment requests, to which Columbus Police Chief Selvain McQueen objected.
"If that machine (CPD has now) goes down, our ability to process drugs (is) gone," he said. "We'll have to send all our analysis requests to the state crime lab."
The council agreed to meet a third time next week to discuss further cuts to balance the budget. A date and time were not set.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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