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Grayson: Budget ‘cloud’ on horizon

Demopolis mayor Mike Grayson indicated at his weekly press conference on Monday that budget cuts across the board were looming for the City of Demopolis in the near future.

“We have a dark cloud on the horizon,” he said, “and that would be the city budget. I just read where Orange Beach has to cut $3 million out of their budget. We are going to be faced with that same situation, where the expected revenues in the budget that we passed do not line up. It could be as much as a $1.4-million shortfall.”

Grayson said that any cuts to be made would have to be done across the board.

“It would be easy to pick out a department and just say, ‘We’ll just eliminate that department,’” he said, “but I don’t know if we have any ‘luxury’ departments in the city. Every department in the city plays an important role in Demopolis. So, it’s going to be a challenge as we find ways to reduce that $1.4-million deficit.”

Grayson said that the 2007-08 revenues were $9.6 million, and that cities are usually allowed to budget 90 percent of expected revenues.

“Our budget for this year is set up on 95 percent,” he said. “There’s a problem right there. You take 90 percent of that to budget for this year, and you get $8.8 million that you can actually budget. What we’re operating on now is $10.3 million.”

A cut of $1.4 million from a $10.3-million budget would equal about a 13.6-percent budget cut.

“I have asked the department heads to be looking at their operation,” Grayson said, “and look at where we could take 15 percent out. That’s not going to be easy, but the people of Demopolis expect me and the council to be good stewards of the public funds. To say, ‘Aw, it’s going to get better,’ it’s like you see the lighthouse up ahead, and say, ‘Full speed ahead,’ and the next thing you know, you’ve crashed on the rocks. You can’t wait for the ship to hit the rocks before you say, ‘Oops – we’d better make an adjustment.’”

Grayson said that one area that could be cut would be fuel, saying that would be where there would be some control over what is used, although the police and fire departments would still need to maintain its fuel level.

“We’ve just got to look at the bottom line and make cuts that way,” he said. “You only have the opportunity to collect x-number of dollars, and without bringing in another Wal-Mart or significant industry, it’s tough to get those numbers to turn on a dime. It’ll take a while, even with those things coming around. If we don’t lose any more jobs, and if we can keep our employment market pretty steady, we should be OK.”

At the press conference, Grayson also discussed the fate of four of the five city officials, including the city clerk, city judge, city attorney and fire chief. The Demopolis City Council decided at its Nov. 6 meeting to begin accepting applications for the position of police chief, currently held by interim chief Tim Williams.

“What we’re trying to do there is get a permanent chief,” Grayson said. “We’ll get resumes in, and we’ll draw up what we want as far as our requirements and post it. I would like to think that in, say, two weeks, we’ll get the resume gathering down and start interviewing, say, the top three candidates and weave that down to where we have one. That is something I’d like to get done ASAP (as soon as possible).

“My reason for voting ‘no’ on that (maintaining the other four city officials in their current positions for the four-year term of the council) is, frankly, that I’d asked for a little more time, and I felt like I was boxed in on that. Certainly, you don’t want to draw things out, because people need to get on with their lives, and they don’t need to live on an interim basis. I would expect a reasonably speedy resolution to this.”

Council members Bill Meador and Jack Cooley also voted against maintaining the existing city officials at the Nov. 20 council meeting, making the vote 3-3, a non-passing vote.

“I was always under the assumption that you had to make that decision (regarding city officials at the first meeting (of the term),” Grayson said. “That is totally incorrect. (The handbook) says, the first meeting or as soon thereafter as reasonable or practical. Is that six months? Is it six days? Is it six weeks? It’s pretty open-ended.”

Other comments made by Grayson at the weekly press conference included:

On the Riverwalk project, which lines the river bank from the city landing to the water tower adjacent to the riverside tennis courts.: “In a nutshell, I don’t know that anybody is happy with that. You’ve seen the sidewalk; you’ve seen the lights; you’ve seen the benches; and you’ve seen a little of the work that goes down to the boat landing. Nobody up until this point in time has been able to say, ‘Well, what has it really cost us?’ I’ve heard everything from $400,000 to $700,000. Well, $400,000 for a sidewalk? Give me a break. Basically, it’s a sidewalk to nowhere. It goes up to Highway 43, where, if you step out, you’ll get killed because of all the traffic.

“Certainly, it’s a nice sidewalk, and it takes you right by the river. If it ever rains and it floods like you’ve seen in your lifetime (such as the flood of 1979), what’s all that water going to do? Is it going to pull it up?

“Anyway, the project is nowhere near what was originally outlined. I will meet with the Goodwin, Mills and Cawood people — and I want to say that they have been very cooperative in terms of trying to make it right — and I feel like we can get it worked out.”

On Fire Station No. 3, located on U.S. Highway 80 East: “It hasn’t been accepted by the council. That one has been going for over a year now. It’s in use; it just hasn’t been accepted. Let’s figure out what’s the problem, find out what it’s going to take to fix the problem, and let’s get it off the agenda.”On his first Christmas on the River as mayor of Demopolis: “I feel awed. This will be the 37th Christmas on the River. The very first one, I was in college, so I didn’t make that one. I just think it’s great, the fact that for a week or even just a weekend, we’ve got a lot of attention. People are seeing Demopolis as a destination. For me, the challenge for the city and the council and the Chamber is: let’s make that happen a time or two more during the year. That’s what I’d like to see us do, and I’d like to work with the Chamber to make that a reality.”On Linden’s ChillyFest and how that would affect Demopolis: “You’ve heard me say — and I really believe it — that what’s good for Demopolis is good for Marengo County, and what’s good for Marengo County is good for Demopolis. With those folks coming to Linden, if they are coming from out of town, if they don’t have family or friends to stay with, they’re going to fill up our hotels. They’re going to, perhaps, eat in our restaurants, get gas here, buy other stuff here.”

The next scheduled weekly press conference will be on Monday, Dec. 1, at 11 a.m.