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Council weighs scaled-back budget

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Rocky Mount City Council continues to whittle down next fiscal year's budget.

In a meeting Monday and another scheduled for Wednesday, the council is going through suggested belt-tightning measures proposed by City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney. She presented a list of budget revisions to the council, trying to meet the threshold of general fund operating reductions by $2 million.

Councilman Tom Rogers restated the goal of cutting the proposed budget was to prevent a decrease in the city's funds.

"I have a firm belief we don't need to degrade the fund balance ratio," Rogers said. "We're at a place in this city where we shouldn't degrade the fund balance."

Budget Manager Ken Hunter said elimination of certain line items would place the city's fund balance in a better position with more flexibility.

To get things started, the council agreed to defer hiring seven new full-time employees for a new Information Technology Department, but the currently vacant IT manager position will still be upgraded to director level for a total reduction of $231,000.

Small-Toney said without a director, the IT department will just maintain the status quo. She said a consultant was looking into what was needed in IT.

Mayor Pro Tem Lois Watkins said the city should hire a director and begin to set up infrastructure then add to the department in coming years.

The city’s Technology Strategic Plan, completed years ago, calls for Technology Services to function as a standalone department. Right now, the division operates under the city's Finance Department.

“We will still bring technology positions from other departments, and this director will be responsible for coordinating all technology activities across the city,” Small-Toney said. “Currently, our (Geographic Information Systems) staff is spread out in the general fund and utilities. It is our thought that centralizing this program will bring about more efficiencies than we may realize. Advance technology will go a long way with Inspections and Permitting, improving our customer service overall and our processes for future development throughout the city.”

Next on the chopping block was an assist director and wellness coordinator in the Human Resources Department.

Councilman Reuben Blackwell said the city shouldn't eliminate new employees for the city's Human Resources Department. Blackwell said wellness programs are important.

Mayor David Combs, via conference call, said the assistant director position should be filled this upcoming fiscal year and the wellness position next fiscal year.

Rogers said the bottom line is the total amount needed to maintain the fund balance so there's room to make changes in each situation.

Councilman Richard Joyner suggested consultants could fill the wellness role until an employee is hired.

The council agreed to hiring an assistant director in fiscal year 2018-19, but to defer hiring of a Wellness Coordinator until fiscal year 2019-20, reducing the budget by $42,500.

Rather than completing the Battle Park Master Plan, the council will explore opportunities to work with partners to restore Battle Park, reducing the budget by $100,000.

Blackwell said grant possibilities should be explored.

Councilwoman Chris Miller was skeptical if grants were available for just plans, but Blackwell assured her it’s true.

"That's my business," said Blackwell, CEO of OIC, a nonprofit that offers employment, training, business and health services.

The council agreed to reducing housing grants from $500,000 to $400,000.

Watkins said the programs and grants for Community and Business Development provide incentives that further the redevelopment of downtown, a factor essential when considering the upcoming Rocky Mount Event Center.

Councilman W.B. Bullock said he doesn't think the city should spend so much on the programs.

"I don't see what we can do to spend that much money," Bullock said, adding the council should stick to making sure the Rocky Mount Event Center is launched properly and on its feet.

Blackwell said opportunities should be for everyone. He said the city shouldn't cut funding to help people who have paid higher taxes and utility bills now that downtown is starting to come alive.

The council also agreed to make the following reductions: Limit some vehicle purchases, reducing the budget by $307,500; and not completing rehabilitation of the City Hall parking lot, reducing the budget by $40,000. The council is still evaluating hiring a third assistant city manager, perhaps revisiting the position mid-year or in fiscal year 2019-20.

Other additional requests since the presentation of the recommended budget, such as funding for the HOPE Initiative — which helps people with substance use disorders — and a housing developer for the Rocky Mount Edgecombe Community Development Corporation, will have to be revisited later in the year, said Tameka Kenan-Norman, the city's chief communications and marketing officer.

Small-Toney will present another revision of the budget based on Monday's discussions during the next workshop, set for 3 p.m. Wednesday in the third floor Committee Room of City Hall.

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