There is some good news and some bad news to report as far a city finances are concerned. First, the good news is that the city of Helena-West Helena's debt has been reduced by about one-third since the new administration took office back in January 2011. The bad news is the city is still in debt to the tune of more than $1 million.
“Because of some bumps in the road, we often don't recognize the good things that are happening around us,” stated Mayor Arnell Willis in his mayor's report to the local Rotary Club at their noon luncheon meeting Wednesday.
In a power point presentation, Willis showed Helena-West Helena's financial statement. Over a 7-year period, there has been a steady decline in revenue – roughly $8 million since 2007.
“With declining revenues, a city must make some tough cuts,” said Willis. “To date, we haven't made enough cuts. The majority of the (city) council has not allowed me to make those necessary cuts. Every time we make a cut a lawsuit is filed and everything gets burdened down in the court system.”
According to figures, the city has a payroll of $320,000 it must meet each month and $66,000 in health insurance premiums. Willis reports that the city has about $129,00 a month that it can actually “live on.”
“As you can clearly see, we simply are not generating enough revenue,” commented the mayor.
Willis explained and broke down the city's expenditures.
Part of the city's debt is the result of borrowing from other city departments. Helena-West Helena owes its landfill department $220,000. It also owes the Westside Water Department $350,000. Willis reported that the landfill department will eventually have to pay its closure fee and the city also would be in a serious trouble if there was a major emergency in the water system.
“Our debt has been reduced by about one-third since I took office,” stated Willis, “but there is still a long, long way to go.”
Jay Hollowell briefly explained a plan to resurface some prioritized streets with the help of Amendment 91 passed statewide by voters back in November 2012. A special election will be held this Nov. 12 to permit the city to earmark its share of the revenue from the statewide tax to float a bond issue of approximately $1.3 million.
The money, stated Hollowell, would be strictly used to pave streets in the community. He presented a list of streets that were considered in dire need of repairs at Tuesday's council session.
“We can get a lot more street repairs done with $1.3 million than we can do piecemeal with $215,000 at a time,” said Hollowell
Hollowell stressed that this was not a new tax. It has already being collected by the state. Also, he pointed out that there is a sunset clause, which will end the tax in 10 years.
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“We need your support in this matter,” Hollowell told the Rotarians.
Before the session adjourned, Willis reported on the establishment of the two new committees – the Finance Committee and the Police and Safety Committee – and the purchase of a new garbage truck.
“Hopefully, through the committees we can get a handle on the police and fire department overtime,” stated Willis. “We are already experiencing a major savings with the purchase of the garbage truck. Faced with repair and rental expenses, the city had been paying out around $12,000 a month. Now, we just have the truck payment, which amounts to around $5,000.”