Proposed budget would add officers, firefighters

Staff Writer

A proposed $7.8 million 2019 budget includes four new police officers and two new firefighters without a tax increase and reduces overall spending 2 percent from the current year.

West Point Selectmen will spend the next two weeks reviewing the spending plan in detail before holding a public hearing later in the month on June 28 at 5:30 p.m.

The budget takes effect July 1, although it could be revised in September once city leaders know the value of a mill and other revenue-impacting details.

The current budget doesn't include a pay raise but that issue will be revisited in the fall.

"We're living within our means. It's a realistic budget. This was our goal. We were hoping it would turn out this way. It worked out," Mayor Robbie Robinson said.
"We'll look at any fine-tuning and pay raises in September when we set the tax rate after we have a better handle on property tax revenues. That's what we always do," Robinson said.

West Point is unusual in that its fiscal year runs July through June while the state and most cities and counties budget from October through September.

The county doesn't complete its estimates of property values until August, meaning the city can't make realistic tax revenue estimates until then.
Currently, a mill on the tax rate generates between $74,000 and $75,000 in revenue.

If that increases $5,000, with the city's current tax rate, that could generate as much as $180,000 in new general fund revenue if nothing else changes in the tax rate.

Robinson, department heads, Selectmen Keith McBrayer and Jasper Pittman, who make up the city's Finance Committee, spent hours meeting with department heads to review requests, wish lists and actual needs.

"Our goal was no tax increase and to meet our needs, even improve services if we could. We think this budget does that," McBrayer told his fellow selectmen, noting the budgets also don't require a water or sewer rate increase.

The only higher bills will come from an expected rate hike from the Tennessee Valley Authority, which will be passed along to local electric customers.

The budget plan puts general fund revenues at $7,837,157 for next year, a drop of about $7,000 from the current year.

Robinson and the staff reduced projected sales tax revenues, based on the past 12 months, kept property tax revenues at current levels until the city gets better numbers in August, and adjusted other smaller categories based on actual revenues this year.

On the expense side, police and fire were the biggest differences, although the bottom lines don't change that much.

Police Chief Avery Cook has been pushing to get to 32 officers and the budget, if approved, funds three new patrolman and another investigator, bringing the agency back to three detectives.

"We've been busy with two investigators. We feel like we've been strained getting to the things we need to get to. A third one would be a big benefit to the people of the city," Det. Eric Johnson said of the possible addition.

Cook said having more officers not only will increase safety and deter and help solve crimes but also will curb overtime during vacations, illness or major incidents.

In the Fire Department, Chief Ken Wilbourne will have to manage when to hire the two new additions and whether to hire certified firefighters or hire two prospects and put them through the state Fire Academy.

The staffing additions are designed to help maintain the city's recently attained Level 5 fire rating and start the long-term process of lowering that to a 4, which would save property owners money on insurance premiums.
With total general fund expenses of $7.638,671, the proposed budget projects a $198,486 surplus next year at the end of June next year.
The water and sewer budget projects a $183,000 increase in revenue to $6,093,000 and a $220,000 increase in expenses to $5,854,359, which still would leave a $238,641 surplus.