Countryman: More budget cuts would be 'cutting into the muscle'

mowen@ledger-enquirer.comApril 30, 2014 

Marshal Greg Countryman

MIKE HASKEY — mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com

Muscogee County Marshal Greg Countryman says not only can he not cut 1.5 percent from his Fiscal 2015 budget, as required under Mayor Teresa Tomlinson’s proposed budget, but he needs even more money for vehicle maintenance and uniform costs.

Countryman addressed the city’s Budget Review Committee Tuesday, claiming that he cannot carry out the required functions of his office if he is forced to cut $19,000 from his $1.27 million general fund budget. The cuts were part of Tomlinson’s proposed $263 million budget which, in addition to other changes, mandates a 1.5 percent cut from every city department.

“If I’m asked to cut $19,000, that would be cutting into the muscle of my budget,” Countryman said. “If I have to cut that, within six months I’ll have to come back before this body and ask for more money.”

In addition to not being able to handle the $19,000 cut from his Fiscal 2014 level, Countryman said he needs a $12,000 increase in his uniform budget and a $10,000 increase in vehicle maintenance budget.

The marshal’s office is responsible for serving legal papers such as evictions and bench warrants and for handling security for municipal courts.

Budget Review Chairman Skip Henderson said he understands Countryman’s frustration, and that of other department heads in the Consolidated Government. But because the city’s reserves are right at the 60-day level, below which the city’s bond rating could suffer, council just doesn’t have the leeway it has had in the past.

“This year, it’s not a matter of wanting to or not wanting to,” Henderson said. “We just don’t have the money.”

City Manager Isaiah Hugley said most city department heads “saw this coming” and made plans to deal with the shortfall by holding positions open so they could handle the cuts, among other approaches.

“Most department heads have already made decisions about how they’re going to handle this,” Hugley said. “It may be layoffs, it may be furloughs. The department heads have already identified what they’re going to do to stay within their budgets. They have already done that.”

Hugley pointed to a spread sheet of the marshal’s budget and said there are places where spending could be cut. For example, he could delay hiring a deputy marshal until that salary savings would make up for the needed cut.

Councilor Bruce Huff suggested that the marshal and the administration might be able to meet to iron out their differences. Tomlinson and Hugley said that would be possible.

“I think the finance director and analysts in that department could assist the marshal as an elected official and make some recommendations for where there could be some savings,” Tomlinson said.

Councilor Judy Thomas said that for the time being, she would put the requests from the marshal on the budget “add/delete list,” but warned him that doesn’t mean the request will ultimately be filled.

“I don’t want us to lose this request. I don’t know if we’ll be able to fund it, but I don’t want it to get lost in the shuffle,” Thomas said. “But I want everybody to understand that just because I’m putting it on the add/delete list doesn’t mean it will remain on there at the end of the budget session.”

Henderson reiterated to Countryman that council is facing decisions it hasn’t had to face lately because of the lack of extra reserve funds to fall back on.

“If we had it, I don’t think there’s any question that we’d give it to you,” Henderson said.

Council has several more budget review sessions scheduled before it votes on the final budget near the last of June.

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