City's Budget Crunch Leads to PD Reduction
By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor
During a fourth budget workshop held prior to a regular meeting on Thursday, Sept. 15, Bandera City Council discussed municipal problems associated with a declining population, crumbling infrastructure and the necessity of hiring a city administrator - with reduced funding.
During the 6 pm meeting, rather than raise taxes on already strapped residents, many of whom are on fixed incomes, councilmen approved - by a 3-1-1 decision - a three-member reduction in force in the police department.
Paucity of $$$
To offset future emergencies associated with outdated water lines, on-again-off-again commercial wells and possible relocation of the wastewater treatment facility, council added $100,000 to a Capital Improvement Fund and earmarked $35,000 to implement the city's long-range master plan. Later in the regular meeting, council unanimously adopted the proposed budget.
At this time, Sgt. James Brantley will remain a patrol officer and Officer Earl Heidelberg will continue his part-time position as park policeman.
During the budget workshop, the need for a city administrator was addressed. Currently, Mayor Horst Pallaske, City Secretary Linda Boshek and Director of Public Works Mike Cardenas share responsibilities.
"We could hire a part-time city administrator, but the problem is finances. We don't have money in the budget right now," said Pallaske.
"It's imperative that we have a city administrator. This was supposed to be a temporary arrangement," said Councilman Binky Archer.
Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Schumacher added that she felt it would benefit the city to split the position and retain a separate city treasurer. Ernie DeWinne serves as interim city treasurer.
"For a full-time city administrator, council must come up with a salary line of $45,000," Pallaske said.
Schumacher also asked that funds be set aside to implement portions of the master plan, such as a pedestrian footbridge along Main Street and western murals. She suggested $25,000 for the bridge and $5,000 for the murals.
However, Pallaske said the funds weren't sufficient, noting, "We must make sure the bridge is safe. It has to adhere to safety standards."
Archer suggested simply adding a line item for the master plan, but not making it specific to the footbridge.
Councilman Nancy Montgomery recommended adding $35,000 to the budget for the master plan and both Archer and Councilman John Hegemier recommended putting $100,000 in a contingency fund.
Both budget additions were placed in the general fund, as opposed to the utilities fund.
"We should operate the city like a business and keep the funds separate," Pallaske said.
Capital Improvements & no reserve
"You can call it Capital Improvements and include the portion for the master plan, but I still don't know how we're going to pay for it," DeWinne said. He added that most municipalities have a three months operating fund in the utilities fund. "That would be a reserve of $400,000 to $500,000 and we don't have that," he pointed out.
"No yet, but we're working on it," Pallaske replied, adding, "Now we must go through the budget and see where we can cut."
Hegemier suggested not filling the open patrol slot due to the resignation of Officer Mario Hernandez. Police Chief James Eigner had proposed hiring Heidelberg full-time. According to DeWinne, not filling that position would save the city $42,000, including salary and benefits.
"The city would have to drop 24 hour police coverage," Hegemier said.
Appearing to support his suggestion, Councilman Brandi Morgan noted that not hiring a fifth officer would bring the deficit down to a little over $90,000.
At that point, Schumacher asked council to convene an executive session to discuss personnel matters with municipal attorney Barbara Boulware-Wells. Pallaske adjourned the workshop at 5:40 pm and council trooped off to the Bandera County Public Library for the closed session.
Protracted executive session
Council returned from the protracted executive session at 6:45 - well after the regular meeting was set to begin.
Pallaske promptly concluded the budget workshop and convened the regular meeting.
Because of outbursts that had occurred at an emergency meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 7, the mayor restricted public comments to the beginning of the meeting and limited speakers to three minutes.
Schumacher opened discussions by reviewing the budget workshop for those who didn't attend the earlier session. "We looked at the budget and added some items that we thought were necessary. To balance the budget, we have to decrease some of the officers in the police department. We have a variety of options," she said.
Archer suggested eliminating the three or four highest paid individuals in the department but leaving one full-time and one reserve officer. Another option was to eliminate the chief and lieutenant positions and a patrol position.
Seemingly at a loss as to what was happening, Morgan asked to poll the audience and solicit their opinions. Pallaske explained that all citizens were asked to speak at the onset of the meeting.
"We need an interim head and working supervisor and a second patrol officer," Schumacher said, indicating both officers would work patrol. "We would have to rely on the county for extra coverage and they have been agreeable if this is the decision we make. They would not charge us at this time and this would give us an opportunity to see how this new alignment would work."
Bandera County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Danny Bowermaster and Deputy Scott MacNaughton were present during both the budget workshop and city council meetings.
According to DeWinne, either option would decrease expenses. He noted that a reduction in force of the police department would eliminate a little over $119,000 from the budget for fiscal year 2011-1012, leaving a surprising surplus of $1,111.
Eliminate three positions
Hegemire made a motion to eliminate the chief position, lieutenant position and a patrol position for budgetary reasons.
In the ensuing discussion, Morgan said, "I'm not sure city residents would be comfortable with this reduction in law enforcement."
"This is necessary to provide the citizens with the services they deserve," Archer explained. "In the past, we've had to approve emergency funds that were not in the budget."
Reading from a prepared statement, Eigner said, "I'm not sure what happened to the budget. The city's had a fulltime 24-7 police force for the last 10 years. The citizens call the police and we have someone there in three to five minutes."
After noting deputies must cover the entire county, he said, "Fifteen minutes is a long time if you're a victim of domestic violence or have a prowler or a drunk driver has hit you."
Eigner evoked images of crime running rampant in the municipality, saying, "The wrong people will be the first to realize the city has no law enforcement. You don't know what a big problem it is to eliminate the police department. I think the citizens would rather have protection that a bridge or murals."
Taking exception with Eigner's dismissal of BCSO deputies, Schumacher said, "The county has assured us that patrol officers have been designated to cover the area. I have full confidence that (this coverage) with the county will occur."
Archer added that the police response-to-scene time is the same as that of the county.
When discussions ended, Schumacher, Archer and Hegemier voted in favor of eliminating the three positions; Montgomery voted against the motion and Morgan abstained, saying, "I can't vote for something like this."
In an interview, she explained her abstention. "I felt uncomfortable with the way things were happening. Just a week before, council had attempted to suspend the entire police force with pay. Now the department was to be taken out for budget purposes."
She continued, "If I had had time to explore with residents whether they would rather have emergency funds over a police force, I might have felt more comfortable casting a vote. I felt it was a hasty decision and, to me, there's a difference between a quick decision and a rash one."
Brantley, Evans & Smith
Despite earlier rumors to the contrary, Patrol Sgt. Jim Brantley has apparently decided to remain with the city.
Because of the shake-up in the police department, however, he has withdrawn from the sheriff's race. "My hands will be full with this new position," he explained. "And, if something happens,
I may be looking for employment elsewhere."
In the meantime, Brantley anticipated working with county law enforcement authorities to provide continued protection to city residents. "If the city goes with the city marshal, it would make sense for the marshal tobe on duty from 6 am to 6 pm and have deputies patrol the city during the night and early morning hours," he said.
In an interview, County Judge Richard Evans essentially reiterated what Schumacher had told the council.
He explained the two options available. "If the city still intends to operate a police force with a reduced number of officers, the city would have to enter into an interlocal agreement with the county to provide enhanced protection," Evans said. "If they decide on a funding a city marshal position, the county is statutorily obligated to provide law enforcement protection to city residents. They are, after all, county taxpayers, too." The City of Ingram in Kerr County, with a population of 1,909, has a city marshal.
Evans added that county deputies would not enforce city ordinances, but only state and county laws.
He also indicated that the city would not be required to pay for extra protection "until the current situation is resolved." Evans anticipated hearing formally from City of Bandera administrators before the fiscal year ends on Friday, Sept. 30.
Chief Deputy Richard Smith said deputies with the sheriff's office would maintain law and order in the city pending the outcome of the current situation. "Whatever the law enforcement needs of the citizens are, the county will provide them," he said.
Pictured: In an interview on Monday, Sept. 19, Bandera Mayor Pro Tem Maggie discussed the recent decision of city council to eliminate three positions in the police department next year for budgetary reasons with KSAT reporter Jennifer Dodd.