Sallisaw city commissioners heard a report on a city utility study at a special meeting Thursday. After the report Ward 2 Commissioner Jim Hudgens urged the other commissioners to begin looking at cutbacks in city spending.
The commissioners will consider final approval of the study at their regular meeting Dec. 14.
At the conclusion of the review, presented by Assistant City Manager Keith Skelton, Hudgens admonished the other commissioners, “We are not in good shape financially.”
Hudgens pointed to projects facing the city in coming years. These include opening a new cell at the city landfill, which is expected to cost between $500,000 and $600,000; the widening of U.S. Highway 59 on the city’s north side, which is required by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and which is expected to cost the city between $600,000 and $700,000; improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment plant, which is expected to cost $1.5 million; and an upgrade to a city power substation, which is expected to cost $600,000.
Hudgens said the city must cut costs in order to pay for those projects and suggested cutbacks in employee numbers and benefits would save the city money.
City Manager Clayton Lucas said the city has savings and increased revenue over $492,000 this year by not replacing employees who have retired or quit and through other measures. It was also pointed out that the cost of insurance coverage was going to increase, and the city staff is looking at ways to hold insurance costs at bay, including through a health care co-operative.
Hudgens said he wanted to see more efficiency and productivity from the city’s workforce.
Lucas said that the city has 123 employees at the present time and if the workforce was cut back to 100 it would save the city about $1.5 million in salary and benefits.
Hudgens acknowledged he did not want to see layoffs but insisted, “There is going to have to be more cuts.”
Hudgens urged the other commissioners to take on the responsibility and not make city administration make decisions on how to save money.
He said, “We also need to develop a long-term debt-reduction program.”
Lucas said the city has a plan to pay off long-term debt which was set up by the previous administration.
Skelton, in the utility review, pointed out that the Grand River Dam Authority, which provides electric power to the city, has announced a 4.6 percent increase in costs in January.
“We will recalulate the city rates and implement them on all statements after January,” Skelton said.
Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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