City of Rutledge debates police department
Over 40 concerned Rutledge citizens gathered at a monthly city council meeting to discuss an impending budget crises that could leave the town without its police department and its sole officer and chief, Roy Eitneier.
Currently, a shortfall of $35,000 in the police department budget could leave the city’s sole law enforcement officer without a job come July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. A three-year federal grant previously provided a supplement to the budget that allowed for the continued existence of the department. However, that grant made its final contribution to the department last year, and has now left the city scrambling to find a new means of allotting the necessary budget.
"We have worked on this budget four times," Rutledge Mayor Bill Spann told the audience as residents began to voice their concerns. "Everybody here wants an active police department. We’re here to do what we can as far as financial support goes to continuing this department."
Despite budget cuts of nearly $9,000 from beautification projects, parks and recreation, and tourism and advertising line items, city officials were only able to develop a budget surplus of approximately $6,300.
"That’s just about as lean as we can get it," Mayor Spann said about the latest budget revisions.
Officials presented several possible solutions to the lack of revenue, including raising the average resident’s real property taxes by $120 per year. The move would require a referendum voted on by residents, and monies collected from the increase could not be implemented for anoth
er 18 months.
The possibility of additional revenue from the passage of a "Municipal Option Sales Tax" was also discussed. The MOST tax proposal represents a possible one percent increase in sales tax, but the resolution calling for the program’s inception has yet to pass the in the state legislature.
Citizens in attendance learned that the most viable solution to the problem reached by city council officials was the possibility of contracting with the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office for the presence of a deputy in Rutledge for 40 hours a week at a cost of approximately $50,000. The move would essentially provide current Eitneier a means of "changing uniforms" come July 1.
The cost of the contract, however, still presents a $20,000 budget deficit for the city of Rutledge.
Attendees of the meeting were also told that the city did hold over $200,000 in current savings through CD certificates, bonds, and other savings. However, city officials seemed reluctant to pull any more money from the accounts in lieu of possible problems with city infrastructure such as the town’s deteriorating water system.
"I would like to see us continue to have a police department," said Council Member Tom Strott. "But trying to fund any department out of a savings account is a short term solution to a long term problem. Those accounts are already diminishing at a rapid rate."
The explanation that the savings accounts existed as a sort of contingency fund for city emergencies failed to mollify some residents, though. Several people that spoke in regards to the budgeting difficulties called for the necessary money to be withdrawn from the accounts in the interest of providing funding for the police departmen
t for at least one additional year.
No official action was taken at the meeting in relation to the possible discontinuation of the Rutledge Police Department and employment of Eitneier.
According to City Clerk Jody Moss, the budget presented to residents at the meeting represents only a possible structure for the upcoming fiscal year. The budget has not gone through public hearings required for final approval. However, if the budget presented at the meeting were approved, the lack of funding for the police department would require the department to dissolve as of July 1.
The city currently receives an estimated $31,000 a year in fines and forfeitures that are collected by Eitneier. This money only provides about half the necessary funding for the estimated $72,000 per year in operating costs for the police department.
"We’re going to try [and continue the department]," said Mayor Spann. "I just don’t know where we’re going to get that money."