By Caleb Slinkard
The Commerce Journal
The budget adopted by the Commerce City Council last Tuesday night represents a surplus of $190,418.67. But one of the cuts is a 25.2 percent reduction in the money given to the Commerce Public Library, an organization that has struggled with funding for years and was in the midst of attempting to raise $400,000 for a renovation project.
According to City Manager Marc Clayton, the cut was one of many made to prepare for the closing of the Covidien plant in 2014, which represents an approximately 20 percent loss of revenue for the city.
“Even since the last budget, before the elections earlier this year, the council was concerned with how we would be able to continue funding the library as our tax base continued to fall,” he said. “The council directed me to cut expenses, and initially we discussed a 50 percent cut. But the council thought that cutting 50 percent was too deep.”
According to Clayton, the 25 percent cut is not set in stone.
“The council is continuing to talk with the library board and they could use a budget amendment to change the amount,” he said.
The cut could result in the library losing state accreditation with the Texas State Library Commission, which is something the city council is investigating.
“The city council needs to know how much the citizens rely on us,” Commerce Public Library Director Gayle Gordon said. “I would encourage the citizens to express their support for the library.”
The surplus created by this year’s budget will be used to shore up the reserve fund at the recommendation of the city’s auditors, and should help improve the city’s bond rating, Clayton said. The city has reduced its staff from 85 to 73, although all city employees will receive a one-time $900 bonus, regardless of their salary.
“The council was very concerned and wanted to do the best thing they could for the employees,” Clayton said. “They decided that a one-time bonus was better than spreading it out over 26 checks through the year.”
While some departments, such as the police department and administrative services, received significant cuts, public works, municipal courts, fire and safety, the city manager, city council and parks and recreation all received increases.
The increase in the city manager’s budget is a result of Clayton’s salary, which was split between the city manager and the administrative services budget, being placed in one department’s budget, as well as the salary of recently-hired Finance Director Warren Jamieson. Clayton’s budget was split in previous years because he was filling two positions.
Increases in revenue and expenditures also reflect the addition of the SAFER Grant, a four year grant that was awarded to the fire department. Last year, the grant was not included in the budget, but the $185,000 was included this year at the recommendation of the auditors. According to Clayton, the city’s health insurance plan also increased 9 percent and they budgeted a higher gas/oil expenditure to reflect the increasing gas prices.
“We see a huge hole in our revenues in the future, so we’re trying to spread that deficit among the departments,” he said. “We’re just going to have to tighten our belt.”
Part of the impact of Covidien’s loss will be negated by Hydro Aluminum coming on to the city’s tax rolls at 100 percent and being annexed by the city in the next fiscal year. As part of the 10 year non-annexation agreement the city negotiated with Hydro when the plant came to the city, Hydro did not pay property taxes for the first five years, and then incrementally increased their payments for the next five. Although Hydro will come onto the tax rolls at 100 percent in the next fiscal year, the plant has been operating at 100 percent for years.
Covidien, who was initially projected to shut down their plant by 2012, is now forecasting they will close by 2014. The closing represents a loss of approximately 300 jobs.