|Layoffs are possible for Smyrna employees as the town grapples with a deficit and looks for more long-term budget solutions.
“We have an approximate $1.7 million budget deficit this year, but the town manager expects that to create a long term sustainable budget, we may need to cut up to $2.7 million,” Smyrna Mayor Tony Dover said.
Town Manager Mark O’Neal said department heads across the board have been asked to look at cuts to personnel adding it’s the last thing they really want to do, however, 77 percent of the town’s $31 million budget covers personnel costs.
“Our revenue growth is flat,” O’Neal said.
Dover explained the economy is a major reason revenue growth is stagnant.
“As the economy began to slow and we started seeing a reduction in sales tax collections and development revenues, we did what any prudent business does and started implementing cost saving measures to cut back on expenses until things improved. After three years of doing this, it is clear that we will not see a return to the growth we were living on in years past,” Dover said.
Dover also said the town cut expenses on travel, training, raises, and other costly items in the budget over the last several years, which were short term fixes, but not long term ones.
“It is time for the town to recalibrate our operations for a new reality,” he said. “As a government, we use tax dollars to fund our operations, but in this new environment, we will not look to tax increases to continue old ways of thinking that are no longer working. We must become a leaner, more efficient operation before we can ask for more from taxpayers who are also struggling. ...Our goal to reach a sustainable budget will include the need to reduce personnel. No individual departments were singled out and each department head was instructed to provide an explanation of how services may be impacted with their proposal so that the council can weigh the cost versus benefit.”
Members of the Rutherford County Tea Party are concerned cuts to emergency personnel such as fire and police could be detrimental to the safety of residents.
“When something catches fire, I want to know the fire department is going to show up,” said Smyrna resident George Croft, vice president of the Rutherford County Tea Party. “I’m interested in prioritizing.”
Croft argued town leaders should evaluate what is important before making cuts to personnel pointing to the fourth of July fireworks display saying, “It’s great, but we don’t need it.”
“It doesn’t seem to make sense to cut vital emergency services while we are still funding parks, fireworks, and other non-essential luxury projects. While those things are nice, they don’t save people’s lives after a tornado or flood or respond when my house is broken into,” he said.
Dover responded to Croft’s comments saying, “I am surprised to hear that the Rutherford County Tea Party, who espouses to believe in smaller and limited government would come out against a government who is actually looking at ways to reduce spending and prevent tax increases. It appears that those tenets are set aside when one of their friend’s or family member’s government jobs may be impacted.”
Croft responded saying, “Safety is not something I want to sacrifice. I just do not want to sacrifice the safety of myself and neighbors.”
Emergency service personnel make up nearly 60 percent of Smyrna’s employee budget.
“We are looking for ways to be the most efficient operation we can be in every department. The council has not seen the recommendations from the town manager yet, so it is premature to assume what impact to services there may be," Dover said. “Be assured that the council will do the right thing to protect the long term financial standing of the city as well as ensure our citizens remain protected."