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|Monroe council begins review of 2008-09 budget|
What to do with a record $11.6-million surplus dominated discussions Tuesday night at the Monroe City Council's first budget hearing as officials begin to map out the 2008-09 fiscal year spending plan for the city.
Some nine budget hearings are expected to be held in the next few weeks.
Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo cautioned council members against
overspending and reminded them the surplus was the result of fiscal constraint.
Council members initially questioned city engineer Sinyale Morrison about a $63,000 budget cut to the city's small drainage projects fund.
District 5 councilman Robert Johnson asked Morrison why the amount of money earmarked for the fund had been reduced from $100,000 to $37,000 in light of residents who complained about drainage during the last election.
Morrison said new equipment purchases as well as revenue from additional sources could be used to increase the $37,000 if necessary.
Johnson stopped short of suggesting a revision to previous levels. Instead, he said council members should consider spending some the $11.6 million surplus.
"It's not illegal to have a budget out of balance," Johnson said. "We've had it before and there's nothing illegal about that."
District 2 councilman Arthur Gilmore said he understood why maintaining the surplus was important but noted that voters have been asking the city to do more.
"As long as people see houses coming down and the city getting beautiful, the people will be okay and understand things are getting done," Gilmore said.
Another area of particular interest to council members was the travel allowance of the city's economic development coordinator.
That position is budgeted for a meager $1,500 in travel expenses in the coming year.
Johnson questioned whether $1,500 was enough to allow the economic development coordinator to be a "globetrotter" to help bring major employers to the Monroe area.
Mayo said a number of local entities travel extensively. The proposed budget, according to Mayo, included travel for the office of the Mayor for economic development purposes.
Mayo told the council they should avoid duplicating the efforts of other individuals and organizations.
Instead, Mayo said the city's economic development coordinator position was created to be a liaison between city government and economic development groups such as the Monroe Chamber of Commerce and the Ouachita Economic Development Corporation.
"Now we appreciate the opportunity to try and have some more funds for the person who holds that position, but that's not the focus of that position," Mayo said.
Council members also reviewed the proposed budgets for the city's General Fund and Special Revenues fund. The council examined proposed expenses in the city council, executive department, administration, legal department and engineering departments as well.
The council will meet again today (Thursday, Feb. 21) to review budgets for public works, enterprise funds and a number of other city divisions.
A final, "overall review" meeting has yet to be scheduled. That meeting must take place before the city council introduces the final 2008-09 fiscal budget on March 27.
The council will consider final approval for its new budget at its regular meeting April 8.