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Minimum wage hike, tax revenue decline put a strain on Jefferson's budget
Phil Mitchell heads out to make rounds at the Jefferson Parks and Recreation Department’s sports complex, where he is a part-time employee. A federally mandated raise for part-time workers is working against many local governments as they try to cut down on expenses during tough economic times. - photo by BRANDEE A. THOMAS

JEFFERSON — When his pay rate increased by nearly a dollar per hour, Phil Mitchell noticed. But he wasn’t the only one — so did his supervisors at the Jefferson Parks and Recreation Department.

"We had to raise the pay rate for part-time employees from $6.55 to $7.25," said Jeremy Smith, Jefferson Parks and Recreation athletic director.

With 22 part-time, summer employees, the pay increase adds up. And it will continue to affect the department’s bottom line for the rest of the year. They currently employ seven regular, part-time workers who do everything from helping maintain the grounds, to office work and assisting with athletic programs.

On July 24, employers had to implement the last of three mandated minimum wage increase. Although the rate increase has been in the works for three years, it couldn’t have come at a worse time for many governments as they are trying to deal with less revenue during tough economic times and also plan for the 2010 fiscal year.

For the past couple of months, the Jefferson City Council has been receiving reports from department heads about budgets for their departments for the upcoming year. The council is expected to approve a final budget in August. In the mean time, city staff will work to trim down budgets even more as they contend with less revenue. Currently, there is an approximate $760,000 gap between the amount of money being requested by departments and the amount of revenue that the city expects to generate next fiscal year.

Out of the city’s nine departments, the Jefferson Police Department was the only department to present a proposed budget that was less than the previous year’s. The department’s current budget is nearly $1.9 million; for the upcoming term, the department’s proposed budget is about $1.8 million.

"We will have the same amount of patrolling on the streets. We just cut back on incidentals around the office," said Jefferson Police Chief Joe Wirthman. "I’m sure we will have to make more cuts, but it’s not going to be in personnel or patrol services."

Wirthman says the department also was able save money by eliminating unnecessary school resource officer positions and cutting back on janitorial supplies.

Other city departments haven’t fared as well in the budget planning area. The city’s administrative, parks and recreation, library and civic center departments’ budgets all have increased by at least 3 percent.

Higher insurance rates and necessary maintenance of facilities and equipment are just a few of the factors fueling higher budget proposals. Lower local option sales tax collections and a tax digest that isn’t showing any signs of growing has led to less revenue for the city.

Since the city can’t control revenue flow, in order to create a balanced budget more expenditures will have to be cut from various departments.

During a recent City Council meeting, Jefferson Mayor Jim Joiner suggested that the city eliminate pay raises for the upcoming fiscal year to save money. The move could save the city about $75,000.

"A lot of governments have gotten to the place where they have to either require furloughs or lay people off," Joiner said during the meeting. "We aren’t there yet, but I won’t say we won’t have to do it eventually."

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