Two items were tabled due to time constraints to cover the financial problems. Council member Peggy Risinger voted against tabling the issues. Due to pressing construction timelines, another item was considered. Granting temporary occupancy to Maurice's for a small portion of the former United Supermarket building was approved. Maurices will be remodeling their store in Bunker Hill Shopping Center. With that, the first meeting adjourned at 6:34 p.m.
The City of Altus is losing money each month.
City Council member Jack Smiley, summed up the situation. "There are multiple funds, including the emergency fund. The moneys are kept in the general fund cash pool account. That account is used to pay the City's operating expenses. The revenue the City has coming in from sales tax and utilities has not been enough to cover operating expenses, which in turn means that the moneys from these different funds were used to make up the difference."
The AMA / Council discussed several possible methods to remedy that financial shortfall. City Financial Director Joe Don Dunham said that the City has been borrowing from one account to pay off others for years. One reason is that the bills that are due in January are so large, they force the borrowing. The City is used to this borrowing. When the new council came on, they put policies in place to pay things back. Dunham held out funds that may have gone in the general funds to pay back designated projects. These funds are frequently in Certificates of Deposit (CDs), and the funds are not liquid.
Dunham provided a list of possible methods to help solve the City's financial crunch. They have worked in other locations. These methods included: increasing fees, privatization of some City services, changing some vehicle policies (such as eliminating "take home" vehicles and instituting vehicle sharing, removing ten percent of the fleet), increasing employee health care deductibles, changing some retirement policies. Dunham said it was possible for some of the cost-saving measures to be implemented as soon as the next pay period. Others may take until the end of the fiscal year (June 30) or the end of certain contracts.
Dunham was asked by council members how much the City is needing each month to operate in the black. The City is losing about $400,000 each month. As Smiley said (above), flat revenues and increased expenditures meant using different funds to keep the City afloat. When asked if any certain expenditures have helped create this problem, Dunham answered "personnel services", which is up 40 percent.
With a goal in mind of saving $400,000 a month, the council set out on a mission. A possible hiring freeze was first on their list. The council cannot approve a hiring freeze. According to City Attorney Catherine Coke, that's in the mayor's job description. Mayor T.L. Gramling was asked if he would approve a hiring freeze as an emergency measure. He said he would, provided the essential personnel would be exempt. One of the problems the council experienced with the recent hiring freeze last fiscal year was that it seemed every employee was essential. Directors were asked to assess their departments to determine critical element positions.
Council member Smiley made a motion for an immediate spending freeze except for emergency purchases. This was approved by council.
The subject of City layoffs and furloughs for employees loomed as council member Perry Shelton made a motion to cut personnel services by 15 percent. There was no second, and the motion died. More discussion ensued regarding how the City would possibly cut enough to save the $400,000 a month.
With standing room filled, the room was packed with City employees of many departments. A lot of discussion was devoted to a four-day ten-hour work week. With Fridays off, this would mean some savings for utilities and overtime. City Administrator Mike Nettles said by his figures, Altus could save $119,000 for the rest of this fiscal year by going to the four-day schedule. Utility Director Janice Berryhill said that the city of Duncan polled its citizens regarding using that schedule. They then went to the four-day ten-hour schedule and have been using it for over a year. Following discussion about the various aspects of such an arrangement, council member David Brown made a motion for the Monday through Thursday four-day ten-hour work week for the City of Altus. This does exclude certain critical element departments. The council approved the measure. The citizens will be notified regarding the Monday through Thursday hours for City services through their utility bills.
In addition to the department study to determine critical elements personnel, the council asked for a study conducted by Oklahoma Municipal Retirement Fund (OMRF), their retirement carrier. It will explore options for potential retirees.
Human Resources and Public Relations Director for the City Matt Coppock thanked the City employees who attended the meeting. "No one asked them to come," Coppock said. "That shows their support."
Mayor Gramling said, "If we work together we can solve this problem." He also said that there will be another meeting to work out the implementation of these cost-saving measures.
Council member Rick Henry said that Bob Stephenson is in the Journal-Record regarding the water treatment plant. Henry said these (money saving) measures "in no means fixes things." In earlier statements he said "Times are tough...Together we've got a shot at this...Pick up the slack. Come together. There's not one best answer. It'll be a lot of little answers..It's everybody's problem."