With the possibility of a 20 percent property tax increase looming, Red Bank officials seemed surprised by the small turnout - about 15 people - who attended their public forum on the city's 2012 budget.
"I wish we could pack the house out for these things, because we really want to hear from you folks," Mayor Monty Millard said.
Millard said the commission particularly needed input from residents on some of the more hotly contested budget proposals: 2 percent raises for city workers, charging additional tax for garbage pickup, doing away with brush pickup and possibly cutting the city's codes officer position.
In budget workshops last week the commission reduced preliminary expenditures by $201,400 by ruling out construction on City Hall, cutting finance and insurance costs and proposing cuts to other services. But the city's deficit in the budget's latest draft comes out about $216,400 - meaning the city still would need to charge a property tax, Millard said.
In discussions last week, the commission reduced the originally proposed 33 percent property tax hike to 20 percent.
Red Bank resident David Smith spoke out, saying the city could cut in more areas like fuel efficiency.
"I just wish we could do something without raising property taxes," Smith said. "They can cut more."
Several residents decried the possible loss of a codes inspector, though the position costs the city $43,000 a year.
Commissioner Floy Pierce argued that another city official or public works employee could take on the task with no extra expense to the city.
Commissioner Ruth Jeno disagreed.
"I think we would go down the tubes if we let it go," she said. "We're one mile wide and six miles long, but our infrastructure's old."
No one publicly denounced the city employees' raise, but several people approached commissioners to speak against the measure after the meeting adjourned.
One was Charlotte Thompson, who said taxpayers should not be expected to foot a $59,000 raise in the middle of a recession.
"We have great employees in Red Bank. But with the economy the way it is ... there are just too many other people who didn't get raises this year," she said.
Today the commission will meet to discuss the budget from 1 to 3 p.m. The public is invited but not permitted to comment. Another public hearing will be held before the budget is voted on June 7.
Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6673.