Taylor awaits state response to budget

Sunday Times Newspapers

TAYLOR — City officials last week submitted a debt elimination plan in hopes of avoiding financial management takeover by the state.

Some, including Council Chairwoman Cheryl Burke and Mayor Jeffery Lamarand, were uncertain if the submitted plan will work.

The final plan was approved April 5 and provided to the state by Monday’s final deadline. The decisions made in the final hours, Lamarand said, “placed the city at greater risk of financial hardship.”

In January, state auditors told city council members that a projected budget deficit of $5 million needed to be brought in line. If not, the state was prepared to initiate emergency financial management.

Multiple, lengthy meetings failed to reach a compromise among elected officials, who requested a deadline extension. State officials provided a final cutoff date of April 9 for a plan to eliminate the deficit within five years.

Rather than the anticipated department cuts and possible layoffs, the approved plan outlined an elimination of a projected $5 million deficit through an increase in tax revenues and anticipated reduction in police and fire pensions.

The revised plan was approved during a special meeting held April 5. Councilman Rick Sollars proposed the revised budget and explained that, by identifying additional revenues, staffing can remain at current levels for the foreseeable future. Adjusting projections for court costs and a potential grant for fire department staffing, Sollars said the plan does not predict any more job losses.

“I can’t tell you there will won’t be any municipal layoffs,” Sollars said. “But there is additional money put back in trying to get them back to the levels they are at now.”

Sollars said that revised projections forecast a decrease in the taxable values of most homes, which would adjust millage income favoring the city.

Council chair Cheryl Burke opposed the plan, and said it relied on uncertain income.

“I’m not clear where all the revenue comes from,” Burke said. Burke and council woman Jill Brandana voted against the approved measure.

Lamarand said Monday that the plan did not make the necessary cuts to reverse a growing gap between income and expenses.

“By waiting until the 11th hour, City Council has left the city no choice but to submit the (debt elimination plan) that was approved this evening,” Lamarand said. “I must follow the legal process even though I believe the changes adopted in the council’s version of the plan fails to address the city’s deficit in any way.”

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)