published Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Etowah trims payroll, reduces deficit

By Paul Leach

ETOWAH, Tenn. — Etowah has significantly reduced a budget deficit of $140,000, and city officials say they are looking to improve community services in the coming fiscal year.

Deficit-reducing measures have meant a leaner, more efficient administration, City Manager Matthew Gravley said. He has decreased staffing costs by about $200,000 in his six months on the job, he said.

“We have a whole lot of workhorses,” he said. “You can’t be here if you’re not a workhorse.”

Gravley cited the Public Works Department as a prime example of good reorganization, estimating that its staff probably had doubled productivity even with a reduced head count.

Etowah’s proposed budget for 2011-12 approaches $2.9 million, city commissioners said last week.

“The department budgets are zero-based this year, built from scratch,” Gravley said.

The new budget closely follows the current year’s bottom-line total, but it does include a property tax rate increase of 17 cents, he said. The change amounts to about $34 more in taxes per year for most people, Gravley said.

Etowah scored savings of about $70,000 by dissolving its 911 service and adopting McMinn County’s emergency 911 service earlier this year, according to city officials.

The city also avoided costs to upgrade its emergency service to new state-of-the-art digital standards by using McMinn County E-911, said its director, Marvin Kelley.

The city manager said he believes residents understand the value they are getting for their tax dollars, noting that no one voiced concerns when Mayor Burke Garwood read the proposed budget Monday evening.

“They were lined up out the door” of commission meetings 20 years ago when a rate increase of only 7 cents was on the table, Gravley recalled.

Gravley said he has cycled through priorities on a near-monthly basis to reduce the deficit, increase efficiency and provide better service to the community.

The city’s wellness center, a project that languished for some time, is nearing completion. Gravley said volunteers recently painted the center’s exterior and that the interior would be painted soon. The commission approved Gravley’s request to lease-purchase exercise equipment for $1,200 per month.

The improved budget also will allow for the purchase of a $99,000 fire truck to replace the city’s recently-scrapped model, Gravley said. He said he expects the new equipment to be bought and put into service this summer, giving the Etowah Fire Department a total of three fire trucks again.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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