After a four-hour Saturday meeting, the Gilbert Town Council has acknowledged the $6 million town budget deficit will likely be higher.
Council members have put together a subcommittee to recommend cuts and priorities, and are still discussing options to balance the budget for the upcoming fiscal year that begins in July. The goal is have a plan by the end of June.
Voters shot down a quarter-cent permanent sales-tax increase May 18 that would have raised an estimated $5.1 million in its first year to help the town’s budget shortfall. Proposition 406 was earmarked for public safety services.
Not wanting another year with limited training and overtime for Gilbert’s police and fire departments, council members have tasked the police and fire chiefs to work with interim town manager Collin DeWitt to come up with an amount of money needed to handle those costs, estimated between $800,000 to $1.7 million, said Vice Mayor Linda Abbott.
“Police and fire chiefs will sit down and give us that realistic number,” Abbott said. “We want to know how much it will be for public safety to have training and to ensure that no piece of equipment will be out of service. We need to add that number in so we know what the deficit really looks like.”
A subcommittee was also formed with Mayor John Lewis, councilman John Sentz and new council member Ben Cooper to work with town staff and come up with a strategic budget plan. They will come back to the council with recommended cuts and priorities.
The chief’s costs and the subcommittee’s recommendations are expected to come back to the council possibly by a June 8 meeting.
Town departments have listed additional cost-saving measures to be considered, however Lewis said the council “decided not to look at that yet” because the cuts would not maintain services.
DeWitt said last week he was going to suggest council members decide between a 6 percent cut to town departments in services and positions, or pull money from the town’s fund reserve accounts.
Council members are still divided on whether to transfer funds from the town’s savings accounts to help bring down the budget deficit.
Lewis said he is “comfortable doing one-time transfers,” although he’s not sure which funds to pull from.
Abbott said she feels “very strongly” that no cuts should come from reserve funds that impact property owners and would possibly raise fees. However, she said she wouldn’t mind delaying some capital improvement projects and using funds allocated for those projects.
“I think it will be a challenge to find those (reserve funds) that wouldn’t impact property owners,” Abbott said. “I feel confident that there will be recommendations that the council can finalize. Our mutual goal is to ensure the safety of the community and to move forward with adopting a budget.”
The town previously identified $9 million in savings by postponing capital projects, increasing fees for recreational programs and some services, and shifting money from various non-general fund town accounts.
Town employees also offered a voluntary 3 percent pay cut in wages and benefits to start in July.