MOUNT AIRY — Saddled with more than $40,000 in unexpected expenses, the Town Council on Monday began the arduous task of dredging money from the 1992 budget, with suggestions ranging from canceling truck purchases to soliciting donations for hanging Christmas decorations.
The budget-cutting effort was led by Councilman Marcum N. Nance, who outlined a 12-point plan aimed at compensating for costs associated with three unanticipated blows to Mount Airy's budget.
The wide-ranging plan comprises practical cuts mixed with suggestions on how the town government should do business.
The proposal contains direct-savings suggestions, such as canceling equipment purchases and reducing budgeted overtime by town employees.
But Nance also suggested ideas -- such as untangling bookkeeping and a more active bidding procedure for basic town services -- aimed more at increasing operating efficiency than immediate dollar savings.
"We shoulddo everything we can to make sure we're containing costs during thisdifficult time," Nance said Wednesday.
Some of the ideas are straightforward: canceling plans to purchase three new trucks, a savings of $23,000; selling surplus town equipment -- including a sludge truck and a dump truck body -- that could bring in thousands of dollars; and controlling budgeted overtime for town employees.
Other Nance suggestions, however, quickly got the attention of his council colleagues, including:
* Putting out bids for the council's legal assistance. For years, the council's legal work has been done by the Westminster law firm of Walsh & Fisher. "That's not to say that our attorney is not doing an excellent job," Nance said. "But is it possible to get it done for less?"
* Calling for volunteers and donations to cover the hanging, maintainance and costs of the town Christmas decorations on Main Street. Traditionally, town employees hang, service andremove the decorations, requiring up to two weeks of work.
* Foregoing the framing of prints given to town volunteers at an annual appreciation dinner, which could save $2,200.
* Forbidding town employees to take town vehicles home at the end of the work day.
That idea drew an objection from Council President R. Delaine Hobbs, who heads the water and sewer departments. Water and sewer employees are sometimes called upon to make emergency service calls at night and on weekends. Hobbs said those calls are made easier if an employee has a town vehicle at home.
"It would be a foolish savings," Hobbs said.
Nance said the recommendation is rooted more in perception than economics.
"If we're going to cut something for town volunteers, then we need to eliminate any perception of additional perks for town employees," he said.
"It (town vehicle mileage) is a cost. Let's make sure we're really doing everything (to save money)," Nance said.
The council voted to approve the plan and send it to Mayor Gerald R. Johnson Jr. Hobbs abstained, citing his objection to limiting use of town vehicles by employees.
Mount Airy's first fiscal blow came earlier this year when a state auditor's tax-assessment mistake on a parcel the town recently annexed resulted in an unexpected bill of about $30,000 to Mount Airy.
When it became clear that the town would be stuck with the expense, the mayor asked all council members to scour the budgets for the departments they head and find cuts totaling3 percent.
That cut was difficult enough, but it was only the beginning.
Last month, the council members were told the town must come up with about $14,000 or lose one of four state troopers who provide police protection through the Resident Trooper Program. The reduction was part of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's plan to cut $450 million from the state budget deficit.
A third cut, though much less drastic, is expected in the coming days when Mount Airy loses $1,583 that was to come from the county government, Nance said.
Nance acknowledged that his proposal is simply a starting point. He and the other council members said they would continue to peruse the budget for areas that can be cut.
"We're gonna be hit harder next year," Councilman Oliver Davis said. "It won't go away."