The City of Baker is looking at ways to cut a looming budget shortfall as revenues have fallen because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the collapse of the global oil market.
At its May 20 city council meeting the City of Baker announced that in addition to recent layoffs, the Recreation Department would be closed Friday (May 22).
Mayor JoDee Pratt told the council that the city has to make a lot of changes in order to try to meet a budget shortage for the next fiscal year.
The mayor said that she met in the commissioner’s office a few days earlier to address the possibility of getting some funding from Fallon County to help with the budget and future projects like a Special Improvement District.
Pratt also said that the county is also going through a difficult time with their budget. “They are looking at their budget also.”
The attempt to secure additional funding is best to be done after the budget process has been completed for the upcoming fiscal year for both the city and the county. “We are going to try to work together and see what we can do (with the county), Pratt said. “They are having the same problems that we have.”
But the need to cut costs is something the city has to do quickly, she explained.
“At this time, we’ll have to suspend the Rec Department for awhile,” the mayor explained. “We can not afford it. The Rec Department is just something that we can not afford at this time.”
“I know that letting people go is not the easiest thing,” she said, noting that several people have already been laid off.
“We don’t know how long this (situation) is going to last. I do realize the Rec Department is very, very viable to us. But to move forward, we need to think about the budget, the Rec Department and what we are going to do,” noting that there may be some ways to recoup some money.
“I am looking for your input,” Pratt told the council.
The department program costs the city approximately $200,000, on average, each year, the council was told.
According the recreation department director, Angie Rabbitt, the department still has about $50,000 left – as of April 30.
“I have come up short on my revenues target by about 20 percent,” she said. Rabbitt explained that sometimes revenues can be off because of participation. “If we have a little more participation, we might make a little more that can help offset. It may not be a lot...”
Although the move to shutter the department came quickly and with reluctance, according to the mayor, she did say she hoped that the department could be restarted when the local economy and city budget improves.
Councilwoman Pat Ehret, who was participating in the meeting by phone, said that department is nice for the kids and that she hoped that in the future the city could work out something with sponsorships to help. “This is something we need to change,” she said. “I think parents would be happy to help out and do more.”
Another councilwoman, Brittany Hoversland, added that after COVID-19 she would be happy to spend another $25 to send her child twice a week to tumbling. The recreation department had already had two layoffs because of the state shutdown, the council was told.
Among some of the other items decided was the recommendation to reduce utility deposit from six percent to two percent. The council went a step further, lowering it to one percent.
The council was also presented with a committee report on charge for water and sewer on vacant lots along with a committee report on overweight vehicles.