Baker budget talks grow quiet

BAKER - Several members of the City Council dropped their voices to near whispers to conclude nearly three hours of discussion Monday on ways to balance next fiscal year’s budget.

Although portions of their conversations were inaudible in the audience’s first row of seats in the council chamber, the members apparently discussed the idea of re-adopting the 2012-13 budget, rather than coming up with a new plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The 2012-13 general fund budget, for the fiscal year that ends June 30, is projected to run a deficit of slightly more that $900,000 and further reduce the fund’s prior-year surplus, which amounted to $9.3 million in 2009 but had dropped to $4.17 million when the fiscal year began last July 1.

Mayor Harold Rideau’s proposed budget for the upcoming year anticipated using $1.82 million of the general fund surplus to offset more deficit spending, but council members said last month they hope to trim the deficit.

The city’s charter requires the council to adopt the budget by its June 11 meeting.

City Treasurer Aristead Clayton presented new figures Monday that incorporate earlier suggestions for cutting spending.

As a result, the deficit for the new year dropped by more than $700,000 to a new estimate of $1.09 million and department heads offered more suggestions Monday.

Rideau was absent from the council workshop because of illness and Council President Charles Vincent was not able to attend.

As the meeting drew to a close, Councilman Pete Heine asked what is the council’s next step.

Councilwoman Joyce Burges, presiding in Vincent’s place, suggested that department heads could leave and the council members could “talk among ourselves.”

When Heine said he could not hear the ensuing discussion, Burges had him move next to her to hear the discussion among her, John Givens and Robert Young.

Givens suggested adopting the 2012-13 budget until the financial picture is clearer.

Heine, who spoke louder than Burges or Givens, replied, “I don’t have a problem with that, but you’re taking the budget the other council had.”

“I’m not too excited about this year’s budget,” Heine said.

Burges, Givens, Heine and Young are finishing their first year in office, while Vincent has served since 2001. Heine also has served as mayor.

The council is scheduled to hold another public budget meeting on June 10.