MOUNT CARMEL — The Mount Carmel Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved the first reading of its 2013-14 fiscal year budget last week without a property tax increase, although cutting library hours and a senior center funding request drew some criticism.
The first reading of the 2013-14 budget was approved by a vote of 6-1 on Tuesday. The second and final reading will come up for a vote when the BMA meets in regular session June 25.
Among the cuts was a one-time $3,500 stipend that the Mount Carmel Senior Center received last year.
Last year, the town made a $10,000 budget amendment for the senior center to cover the cost of a state-required audit. When it was discovered that the audit wouldn’t cost as much as anticipated, the BMA allowed the center to keep the remaining $3,500.
Wanda Davidson, a Mount Carmel alderman and Mount Carmel Senior Center director, had requested that the $3,500 be included in the town’s 2013-14 senior center contribution, but that request was denied.
Davidson told the Times-News last week the senior center is dealing with a $7,000 shortfall in its proposed 2013-14 budget.
She said she was hoping to use that $3,500 increase from the town and request the other $3,500 from the county.
During Tuesday’s BMA meeting, Davidson offered the only no vote for the budget.
She said the no vote was in direct response to the $3,500 “cut.”
Mayor Larry Frost told the Times-News after the meeting that the $3,500 was not cut. He said the one- time stipend from last year was not renewed, but the senior center will receive the same $36,000 from Mount Carmel in 2013-14 that was budgeted in 2012-13.
Town leaders anticipate having enough unspent funds left over from the 2012-13 fiscal year to cover a $153,000 deficit in the proposed 2013-14 budget.
If there isn’t enough left from 2012-13, the balance of the deficit will be covered from Mount Carmel’s estimated $2.3 million in reserve.
The property tax rate will remain $1.38 per $100 of assessed property value.
“The board spent a great deal of time going through this budget to make sure we weren’t wasting any money and make sure we were putting the citizens’ money to good use,” Frost said during Tuesday’s meeting. “We plan to buy a new tractor with a boom mower, replace the roof at the public works building, buy some new bunker gear for the firefighters and place a new repeater on the radio tower. Once we see how much money we have left over from this year’s budget, we’ll be looking at trying to get some paving done.”
Under the current budget proposal, the number of hours the Mount Carmel Public Library operates per week would be reduced from 36 to 30 hours. Cuts from the library budget totaled $5,000 in wages and benefits for the year.
The old library hours were noon-8 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday.
The new library hours are noon-8 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, noon-4 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday and noon-6 p.m. on Thursday.
Following several consecutive BMA meetings in which the mayor and/or his wife, Alderman Frances Frost, were criticized during citizens’ comments, there was a different procedure for comments at the May meeting. There weren’t any citizens’ comments at the beginning of Tuesday’s BMA meeting.
Citizens attending the meeting were required to fill out a comment card that was to be reviewed by Mayor Frost at some point during the meeting to determine if the comment pertained to city business.
At the end of the meeting, citizens’ comments were allowed.
Among those who spoke was Janice Dean, who criticized cutting the senior center’s $3,500 request and the library cuts.
“You told the people in the past that the senior citizens were very important to you, but you cut the money that they had been given by the previous administration even though the director told you she needed the money and would still come up short in her budget,” Dean said.
As for the library cuts Dean added, “that is very disappointing for a person to plan a time to go to the library and to have it closed, even though it’s scheduled to be open.”