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Jonesboro faces 2009 budget cuts

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

In an effort to balance its 2009 budget, the City of Jonesboro is proposing an immediate $19,000 cutback of some items that have enjoyed major city support in better economic times.

The city's proposed budget for fiscal year 2009 is $3,114,213. Jonesboro Mayor Luther Maddox said the budget cuts are projected so the city can avoid laying off workers. Formal approval of the action by city leaders is expected Monday.

"The city basically operates on sales taxes, and we expect the economic downturn to cut into our sales tax revenues," said Maddox. "That is why we are going to have a lean budget.

"If the economic condition worsens any more than it has, we may be in as bad condition as some of these other cities," he said. "We may have to layoff some people, and that is not what we want to do. To maintain the level of service, we have ... we have to keep the people."

In a special called meeting on the budget Friday, the mayor and council made the following cuts:

· Reduced its pledge to Historical Jonesboro from $5,000 to $1,000.

· Slashed the city's Summer Concert Series budget in half to $5,000.

· Took $10,000 out of the city's legal defense fund.

A motion for a hiring freeze for the city's police department was voted down by the council. However, the mayor and council voted to set the starting salaries for the police chief and assistant chief at $50,000 and $45,000, respectively.

Maddox also suggested that the city use some of its contingency funds to conduct a survey to see how other cities are paying their employees.

"I want to compare apples to apples," said Maddox. "The survey will apply to every employee in every department in the city. We need to be like other cities, not on the low end, or the high end."

Sandra Meters, the Jonesboro's finance officer, said the city will still have to find a way to balance it's FY2008 budget. She said, in light of Jonesboro's decision to roll back its millage rate to zero earlier this year, the city lost about $180,000 in tax revenue.

"We haven't had any property tax since 2006," said Meyers. "We had budgeted about $180,000 in taxes [in 2008], which we're not going to get at all.

"We're not going to use any reserves next year," Meyers added. "That is why we were meeting today."

The nation's economic uncertainty has some city employees concerned.

Joe Nettleton, head of the city's public works department, expected to see some cuts in employee benefits, but said the city should be all right "unless something catastrophic happens."

"We have quite a bit less this year than last year," said Nettleton. However, "no services will be cut, as far as public works is concerned. We're losing benefits, not employees."

The city will finalize its budget cuts during its regular business meeting on Monday.