By Alicia Lacy

The Cove Herald

Budget talks became intense Tuesday night, which was the Copperas Cove City Council's last opportunity to propose changes to the 2010 fiscal year budget before they publish the public notice.

Director of financial services, Wanda Bunting, presented the council with changes to the proposed budget, after which, Councilman Bill Stephens suggested several additional changes that stirred up differing opinions among the council.

Bunting summarized changes made to the general fund, which included a projected revenue reduction of $227,354, a reduction in street maintenance by $185,950, a $2,500 increase to the USO and $8,321 increase to the HOP bus service

Afterward Stephens suggested a hiring and salary freeze and no merit or cost of living adjustments for city staff. He also proposed the city only pay 85 percent of healthcare for city employees and drop the vehicle allowance for city employees as a way to ease the burden on taxpayers.

"We're going to employ ourselves into bankruptcy if we don't watch what we're doing. We're fast becoming the city with the most employees," Stephens said. "That's not bad, but I don't think with this coming year we can afford that $785,000 additional dollars in salaries and benefits."

After brief discussions and a poll of the council, the hiring and salary freeze was not included after a 4-3 vote.

When discussing the pay freeze, City Manager Gardner said the pay freeze, cost of living adjustment and merit increases are already included in the proposed budget.

"I think sacrifice should be on everybody's part. If we're increasing utilities, permits, water, sewage and increasing property taxes, something else has to give," Stephens said.

In response, Gardner said many employees are residents of Copperas Cove who fall under the same restrictions as all other residents.

"We've asked them to be understanding of the budget," Gardner said. "We're asking them to take higher increases in their insurance benefits, meaning they assume more financial responsibility and they're also having to pay more in premiums for that insurance plan that is not as great as what it is currently."

After fervently debating his suggestions to the proposed budget's general fund, Stephens' suggestions were not added to the proposed budget after failing to get support from the rest of the council. Councilman Willie Goode was the sole supporter of covering 85 percent of health coverage and cutting the $500 vehicle allowance for 11 city employees.

In other action, Councilman Charlie Youngs recommended $2,000 per councilmember be removed out of the council's portion of the budget.

"I noticed that we have $36,200 in the city council section of that budget book," Youngs said. "If you divide 36,200 by eight elected officials, you come out with $4,025 per elected official. Since we're asking everybody else to cut corners, why don't we lop off $2,000 per person? That's a savings

of $16,000."

In response, Stephens said the funds in the council budget are not solely for council members' participation at meetings, but for required trainings.

In the end, the council decided to reduce the council's allotment in the budget by $500 per councilmember.

Other changes made to the proposed budget include:

The removal of the 2,000-gallon base rate from the water and sewer department; adjusts winter averaging to include an 8,000-gallon floor without a ceiling; a 10-cent increase per 1,000 gallons of water; the removal of capital outlay and debt service from the ideal fund balance calculation and the reinstitution of the 20 percent

senior discount.

The reduction of $12,226 in revenues based on the certified tax roll.

The removal of Texas and Golf Course Road projects, which added $60,000 back into the drainage utility fund.

A $20,000 increase to be given to the Chamber of Commerce, a $1,000 increase to the Copperas Cove Country Opry and the removal of budgeted funding to the Boys and Girls Club of Copperas Cove from the Hotel Occupancy Tax fund.

The removal of the city's $10,000 contribution to the joint image campaign fund and the reduction of capital outlay expenditures for software and equipment.

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