Mayor Carol Hirsch told aldermen the city had average monthly bills of $23,041 and anticipated income in January of $15,764. Aldermen in November 2009 authorized a $20,000 loan that has to be paid back by April to cover an earlier shortfall.
Pierce City had a 15 percent drop in sales tax income in 2009, the biggest percentage drop of any bi-county town. Without any other sources of income, aldermen turned to a list of ongoing expenses, including personnel, in search of cuts.
The job of the meter reader was combined into the regular duties of another city employee, saving $3,840 over a year's time. Aldermen agreed to give back their pay for the rest of the year and eliminated pay for anyone elected in the April election. Breaking the past practice of paying city firemen a total of $3,000 for the run, split out per person by the month, aldermen agreed to cut the total by 15 percent to $2,550.
Even by eliminating a number of other expenses, such as hiring someone to clean city hall, the cuts were not significant enough to make up the shortfall.
After considerable discussion, aldermen decided to cut the hours of city employees by 15 percent, dropping a 40-hour work week to 34 hours. The general consensus was cutting hour or cutting wages would have the same effect, but it would be easier to restore hours than to tinker with wage scales. Maintaining wage levels also shows city employees that aldermen value the job they do.
Clerk Julie Johnson felt it was more important to keep city hall open than to pay her the same amount. Aldermen convinced her that scheduling could be juggled between staff to keep the office open. Closing the office early remained an option, they said.
Police Chief Mike Abramovitz said his officers could only drop back to a 35-hour week. The current schedule calls for a 44-hour work week alternated with a 36-hour week. Abramovitz said the officers could work out the details of a shorter week between themselves. Cutbacks would place Abramovitz on call more of the time, for which he said he should be paid.
"We don't want you to work for nothing," said Alderman David Jones, who led the discussion on cuts.
Other cuts included giving the water and wastewater operator a $25-a-week gas allowance instead of a tank of gas. Mileage for the mayor would be approved by aldermen for specific trips on a per-mile rate. Reimbursement for use of the mayor's cell phone was cut in half.
Hirsch said the city could drop its dispatching service with the city of Monett for $400 a month. Switching to the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department would still bear a charge. Aldermen agreed there was no advantage to changing to an unknown system.
Gordon Brown, executive director of the Monett Area YMCA, had called to ask if the city had decided to hire the YMCA to run the city swimming pool for next summer. The price requested in November had been $8,000. Johnson said the city could not afford to open the pool.
Having left the issue of the mayor's pay unresolved last month, aldermen returned to the question of what to pay the next mayor. Alderman Cory Sooter moved to cut the mayor's pay in half, to $100 a month. Aldermen Julie Garner and John Archer again voted against the plan, leaving a 4-2 majority that was too small to pass the ordinance.
A special council meeting has been called for 7 p.m. on Jan. 18. Aldermen will consider asking residents for a property tax increase on the April ballot.