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Another budget workshop set to settle issues in Shepherdsville

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By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE — Through two budget meetings, councilmembers voiced some concerns over the apparent turnaround in the financial status of the city of Shepherdsville.

However, at Monday’s council meeting, the concerns about adopting the proposed budget grew louder and the confidence that the budget would be approved seemed to wane.

As a result, the council will hold a third budget workshop at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 20, in hopes of having a document a majority of the members can pass on June 25.

The city must pass a budget by June 30 for the upcoming fiscal year.

“We’ll see what can be done,” Shepherdsville mayor Scott Ellis said after the first reading of the budget drew concerns. “It could be a busy week.”

After spending the first part of 2011 trying to find out why the city was facing a $4 million shortfall, city officials listened as the bank account earlier this month was over $1 million.

In the proposed budgets, employees were looking to receive at least a 2.8 percent salary hike and additional personnel were slated for the fire and police departments. Several new vehicles were also tabbed for the new budget.

Part of the turnaround could be attributed to better accounting procedures and part could be the increases in the occupational tax, insurance tax and sewer rates imposed by the council.

The June 11 meeting got off to a rocky start as city officials tried to decide when the final reading and vote on the budget would be held.

Councilman Bernie Brown said he felt it should be done at a regular meeting, which would be June 25.

But councilmember Faith Portman felt that everyone should be at the meeting, if possible. Due to a family vacation planned and paid for a year ago, Portman lobbied for a special meeting on June 21 since she will be gone next week.

Resident Steve Larimore said those who are interested will show up no matter when the meeting is held.

Brown successfully got a motion approved 3-2 to hold the budget vote on June 25.

With that decided, it was on to the merits of the city and sewer department budgets.

“I won’t support either budget,” said councilman Larry Hatfield.

Just 14 months ago, Hatfield said the city was borrowing money to pay its bills; now, it is looking to hire seven people, purchase two new vehicles and give pay raises.

“The city needs another year of sitting still,” said Hatfield, who acknowledged that strides had been made. “I’m not satisfied we’re where we need to be.”

Councilman Garland “Corky” Miller said he felt the employees deserve some increase in pay; however, he was bothered by the 2.8 percent proposed.

He said the workers had taken furlough days in the past year and that cost them money. And he said several of the departments were shorthanded in terms of manpower.

Although he was told it was illegal, Miller said he would have rather seen some type of bonus system.

If the city granted the pay raises, any increase could be erased if furlough days are required later in the year.

He said there is no doubt the debt must be paid off. But he was also concerned that the city was losing qualified employees due to the current situation.

Councilman Don Cundiff said it seems like two budget workshops were not enough.

“I’m real torn,” said the veteran councilman, who said he was concerned about losing employees but he was also concerned about the city’s debt.

Portman said having more workshops that started earlier in the  process would have helped.

She also voiced her concern that if it was any other councilmember, her request to hold the meeting when everyone could be present may have been supported.

Brown said he is pleased that the very difficult decisions made has worked in generating more revenue, as was predicted.

He also liked the new financial information the council is receiving.

And Brown even agreed that the departments, especially fire and police, need more funding.

But he stopped short of endorsing the proposed budget. Like Hatfield, Brown said he would like to go a full year without any major spending increases.

Resident Jim Smothers said he protested the proposed budgets.

After some major increases, Smothers said it would look bad to make major spending increases.

He complimented the city officials for working very hard on the budget this year. He called that effort a big step forward.

But he did hope they would consider a spending freeze for another year.

The council will meet at 6 p.m. on June 20 at the government center. The public is invited to attend.