City budget workshops begin Monday

City administration and members of the Big Spring City Council will roll up their sleeves and delve into fiscal planning for the coming year during a special work session Monday evening, as the municipality looks to begin the process of nailing down its 2012-2013 budget.Preparing the budget will mean much more than just crunching numbers, however, as the city will be facing a number of serious challenges in the coming years, a fact City Manager Gary Fuqua pointed out May 29, when the council and administration met during a preliminary budget work session.According to Fuqua, employee turnover has reached a critical point as the city continues to compete with the booming oilfield for much-needed personnel.“So far this (fiscal) year, we’ve already had 55 turnovers — 20.3 percent of our workforce — which puts us on course for a record-breaking year when it comes to employee turnover,” Fuqua told the council.Fuqua said the city’s pay scale — which falls short of comparable positions with Howard County and even shorter from the wages being offered by most oilfield companies today — is one way the municipality can attempt to compete with other employers and retain personnel, especially those with the police and fire departments, as well as heavy equipment operators, who are in high demand these days.Another issue likely to find its way into the 2012-2013 budget proceedings is rising costs at the Big Spring Senior Center, which continues to take a healthy bite out of city coffers each year.“The city took over operation of the facility in 2007-2008. Before that, the city contributed $36,000 a year to the center,” Fuqua said. “This year, the city’s contribution to the center will amount to $163,000 and next year, when the county anticipates no longer subsidizing the operation, it will cost the city $238,000.”Fuqua said problems with the building the center is located in — especially the facility’s dance floor — have also caused city officials to look at other options, including moving the center to a new location or building a new center. However, Fuqua said either option would easily cost the municipality $1 million or more, making it cost prohibitive.While there’s certainly no shortage of challenges facing the city in 2012-2013, members of the city council also asked the administration to make a number of projects a priority in the coming fiscal year.District 4 Councilman Bobby McDonald would like to see an emphasis placed on saving the drought-stricken trees at the Comanche Trail Park, as well as look at planting trees which need less water to grow.District 5 Councilman Craig Olson asked the city administration to look at ways tax cuts — the city tax rate has been lowered several times in the past few years — can come from non-constitutionally mandated services provided by the municipality.Marcus Fernandez, District 1 councilman, asked that the city consider a number of changes for the 2012-2013 fiscal plan, including improvements at the cemetery, work on back alleys, a raise for city employees and improved garbage pickup.District 2 Councilwoman Carmen Harbour asked that the budget focus on improving water quality in the coming year, as well as lowering the property tax rate.District 3 Councilman Glen Carrigan said many of his concerns for the coming year’s fiscal plan lie in the state of the city’s infrastructure, as well as efforts to save money on fuel for municipal vehicles and equipment.Mayor Tommy Duncan said his main goal with the coming year’s budget is to come up with a fiscal plan that will lower the tax burden on local residents.The city’s current tax rate is 94.95-cent per $100 valuation, a drop of 5 cents compared to the previous year’s 99.95 cent rate. During the previous budget work session, Olson indicated the municipality will be considering a 2-cent reduction in the tax rate.“I’ve spoken with the mayor and I think it has been indicated we’re going to look at a 2-cent (decrease in the tax rate). Now that’s not set in stone,” Olson said.The budget work sessions will begin Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, located at 307 E. Fourth St. The city administration has set aside the same time and location for each following day, although city officials say they expect to have the proceedings wrapped up no later than Wednesday. For more information, call 264-2401.Contact Staff Writer Thomas Jenkins at 263-7331 ext. 232 or by e-mail at