Walnut Ridge lays off 6 employees, more possible in September

WALNUT RIDGE, AR (KAIT) - The City of Walnut Ridge announced a decision to lay off several city workers to make up for a budget shortfall.

Mayor Don House said the layoffs of one full-time police officer, two part-time police officers and three street department workers is a last resort, and he does not expect all of the layoffs to be permanent.


"I am grateful for the citizens of Walnut Ridge and for their patience in allowing us to make the adjustments that need to be made."

The layoffs are due to what Mayor House called an "overly optimistic" budget the City Council passed in January, a rise in fuel costs and an unexpected decrease in sales tax revenue. "In this particular budget we did not calculate that the sales tax was going to go down."


"The sales tax is up just a little bit, and is not falling short now, but it is not increasing enough to offset the losses of the past or to offset the expenses that are overall costing us more throughout the city."


Mayor House said the Street Department and the Police Department use the most fuel.


"(The Walnut Ridge Police Department was) being over budget consistently every month, and so as a result of that there was pressure on me for us to do something to eliminate that."


More cuts are coming, with one full-time, and three part-time mosquito control truck drivers getting laid off later in September.


"Our Council and others determined that we certainly needed to have more of a cushion built into our budget than what we do. We're not broke. We simply do not have the cushion that we would like to have for our city at this time," he said. "We're operating with a general fund total of about $200,000 per month, and we have about $150,000 coming in every month, so by no means are we out of money, but still we'd like to keep enough cushion there for emergencies."


Walnut Ridge resident Gloria Romine said she likes her city, but does not support the recent layoffs.


"He could cut hours for the city workers, and he might could cut hours for the full-time policeman and cut hours for the part-time policemen, but don't cut their job plumb out," she said.


Mayor House said people in Walnut Ridge will see slight changes in city operations with the exception of changes to "essential services" such as fire and sanitation services.


"We do not believe that any of the services to any of the citizens are going to be cut back. Our sanitation remains the same as do our regular pick-ups."


He said the changes residents will see are better than the possible alternatives for bringing money into Walnut Ridge.


"They may be just a little bit slower in responding to the scene, or maybe there may be one officer instead of two officers that will arrive at the scene. We will probably see a little bit more grass a little taller on our highways and roadways a little bit later," he said. "I for one am not for more taxes. I'm one for government making its adjustments and being a smaller government if possible at all."


Mayor House said cuts in several other areas have been made, and the City is still evaluating departments to find room for more cuts.


"One of the things we recently have cut is our phone bill. Went with a different phone company and been able to re-evaluate everything and they're saving about $2,000 a month on our phone bill."


The recent layoffs are in addition to layoffs and cuts from earlier in 2012, bringing the total to 10.

"I alerted the Council in April that sometime we were going to have to make an adjustment because we were running $2,000 to $5,000 a month behind in revenue that we were taking in," Mayor House said.


The City laid off four people in July, according to Mayor House.  In addition, two city employees resigned and the positions were never filled. The six vacant positions total savings of $2,500 per week, according to Mayor House.


"This is taxpayer's money. We want the government to operate as efficiently as possible on the tax dollars that we have available to us and we certainly don't want to raise taxes," Mayor House said. "All of that together means we're going to have a savings over the next 17 weeks of somewhere in the neighborhood of $150,000 to $170,000 in savings."


Mayor House said he is hopeful some of the positions can be restored.

Alderman Ed Lawson called a special meeting for Tuesday night with  City Department  heads to discuss any other cuts that can be made.

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