No action was taken on the budget recommendations made by Mayor Arnell Willis as at a special called meeting of the Helena-West Helena City Council Tuesday evening. pertaining to the 2012 budget.


No action was taken on the budget recommendations made by Mayor Arnell Willis as at a special called meeting of the Helena-West Helena City Council Tuesday evening. pertaining to the 2012 budget.
Willis recommended to the council that phase 2 of the city’s recovery plan must begin in order to achieve full economic recovery.
“I have recommended a second round of manpower cuts from each department be implemented but I will not move forward without the approval of the council,” Willis stated.
Council member Don Etherly requested a list of the current debts for each department, past debts, and current bills that need to be paid.
“All I am asking for are some numbers, so we know what we’re dealing with,” stated Etherly.
Willis stated that he had never heard of such a request in that type of format.
“I’m at the point right now, where we need to take some type of action,” added Willis.
“People want to know why,” said Etherly. “If you’re requesting the citizens of Helena West Helena to pay $10 more a month on their sanitation bill, the people are going to want to know why. If you want the council to vote for this recommendation, we have to know why because we have to explain to the people why we voted up or down on the issue.”
Councilman Jay Hollowell agreed. However, he argued that there is enough evidence based on the current expenses that dictate why such recommendations have been presented.
“We cannot take action on a recommendation if we don’t know what the problem is or where the problem lies,” added Etherly.
“The problem has been identified.  We were 1.5 million in the hole already when we started out with a projection of a million dollar loss on revenue based on the 2010 census, that speaks for itself right there. We never had enough to cover the past administration debt and the current bills that need to be paid today,” stated Willis.
“How can we possibly vote on something when we don’t have the information in front of us? We are bleeding,” commented councilman Larry Brown.
Etherly questioned why the financial debt was reported to have been paid but yet the city is close to bankruptcy again.
City Clerk Sandi Ramsey explained that due to the decrease in revenue, there was a loss of $50,000 from the less state turn back which used to set at $350,000.  “I currently have $110, 000 in the bank for payroll but we need $50,000 more to make the payroll for April 1st.
Ramsey stated that she and the city treasurer, Patrick Roberson have discussed looking for state assistance, preparing to write letters to the governor.
“We need to know what the numbers are before this body can take any further action,” concluded Etherly.
Hollowell reminded the council that the city had to borrow $80,000 from the landfill, $240,000 from the street department and an additional $350,000 from West Helena Water Department in order to make payroll and pay payroll taxes.  “We shouldn’t have put the city clerk in that type of position but that was something that had to be done in order to make payroll.”
“It’s a double-edged sword at this point because we were paying off debts with monies that we have borrowed promising to pay it back, creating yet another list of debt owed, not to mention the vendors that currently need to be paid,” commented Jay Hollowell.

The council agreed that the cleanup must begin. However, they also agreed that without proper financial documentation stating each department’s expenses and a current list of debts owed, they felt no action could be taken at this time.

“The things I can move forward on as mayor, I am going to do.” Said Willis.  “I will do everything in my power to make sure this city does not go bankrupt.”

The council discussed the financial options that are currently available including the health insurance savings that could be acquired if the city employees start paying 25 percent of health insurance, the option of a four-day work week, and the elimination of unnecessary over-time pay.