Projected revenues adopted last September failed to meet expectations, leaving the city with a shortfall of more than $1 million. Next year’s proposed $35 million budget shaves an additional $157,000 off revenue expectations for the coming year.
A retirement incentive that offers those who sign on extended health coverage helped drive a reduction in employees in this budget to 372, down 13 from last year's budget.
Proposed changes in the Parks & Recreation Department, where the budget is down $403,000 from last year, generated the most objections from members of the City Council when finance director Danny McCullars presented the plan.
Under the plan, the city would close Woodland Park and The Hill golf course (the city’s 9-hole course on Johnston Drive), which would save nearly $218,000 and $65,500, respectively.
Councilman Jay Jenkins spoke up during the presentation to voice opposition to closing The Hill.
“It caters to a clientele that recognizes that it’s not the best golf course in the world; they also recognize they get what they pay for in terms of membership.”
He noted that members there volunteer to help cut grass and trim trees and other maintenance.
“It has a strong sentimental connection,” he said, adding that he learned to play golf there.
Mayor Vaughn Stewart agreed. He said the people who use The Hill don’t figure in at other city recreation facilities.
“The Hill’s got First Tee written all over it,” Stewart added, noting the program that uses golf as a means of youth development.
Councilman Seyram Selase supports closing the course.
“If we’re going to be serious about being fiscally responsible, we have to let this go,” he said. Selase said he’d favor putting the money the city spends on The Hill toward an irrigation system at Cane Creek Golf Course, which the city also runs.
Under the proposal, PARD director Steven Folks said, plans are in the works to close the pool at Carver Community Center and replace it with a splash pad at Zinn Park similar to the one installed at Norwood Park, he said.
David Reddick, who represents Ward 2, said he opposed that move.
“Everything’s not about making money,” he said, noting the pool is a quality of life issue for residents of his ward who may not be able to afford to take their children to the city’s Aquatic Center at McClellan to learn to swim.
Folks said he targeted Carver pool because the city is paying lifeguards to keep it open, but it’s not being used enough by residents. He said he had one week where only seven kids came to swim there.
The Department of Public Works also cut more than $400,000 from its budget. Bob Dean, director of the department, said he is down nine employees in this budget.
“This is not going to affect the amount of troops on the ground doing work in the city,” he told the council, adding that it’s mostly a result of restructuring his eight divisions.
The reduction of a mechanic, added McCullars, was made possible by sticking to a capital plan to upgrade city equipment that doesn’t need as much maintenance.
Not included in this budget proposal, however, is a million-dollar problem for Dean. The city did not win the state grant it was seeking to replace disintegrated pipes along Weaver Road that have recently resulted in sinkholes. Dean estimates the cost to replace the pipes is between $800,000 and $1 million.
McCullars said he set aside $400,000 in funding for the Board of Education in this budget, more than the city has historically provided, but short of the $631,000 wish list the board submitted to the council.
Stewart said Tuesday that he expects to hold three budget work sessions in the coming weeks, with a public hearing scheduled for Sept. 10. The council must submit any changes to the budget by Sept. 17 and adopt it by Sept. 27. If the council fails to adopt a budget, the proposal presented by McCullars will become the city’s budget.
In other business, the council:
— Appointed city finance director Danny McCullars as interim city manager beginning Sept. 1. Under a contract approved earlier this month, incoming city manager Brian Johnson will begin by Sept. 30.
— Appointed Keandra Gordon and James Montgomery to the Downtown Redevelopment Authority.
— Approved $29,644 to the Spirit of Anniston to supplement operations.
— Authorized the city manager to negotiate mow-to-own lease agreements with applicants. Under the program, city residents can apply for ownership of a vacant property if they agree to maintain it for a specified period of time.
— Authorized an agreement with Young, Wollstein, Jackson & Whittington LLC to provide legal services for the Community Development Block Grant and HOME programs, federal block grant programs administered locally.
— Authorized the city manager to enter into agreement on behalf of the Anniston Calhoun County HOME Consortium with Northeast Alabama Community Development Corporation.
— Authorized the city manager to enter into agreement on behalf of the Anniston Calhoun County HOME Consortium with The Right Place, a local nonprofit serving homeless and low-income families, for transitional housing and support.
— Authorized the city manager to enter into agreement on behalf of the Anniston Calhoun County HOME Consortium with Habitat for Humanity of Calhoun County.
— Designated three handicapped parking spots at 13th Street and Gurnee Avenue for access to the Justin Sollohub Justice Center.
— Declared several vehicles and equipment as surplus property and authorized their sale.
— Authorized the abatement of debris at several nuisance properties.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.