By MATT BLOIS
Spring Hill’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen discussed next year’s budget at a special session on Tuesday night, but didn’t have enough information to make major changes. The board approved a draft of the budget, but it still has a lot of work to do before finalizing it.
The main problem stemmed from changes to the health insurance options for city employees. The city is considering a long list of options that range widely in cost. Renewing the current options would cost the city slightly more than previous years, but other options could save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The board felt like they didn’t have enough information to make a good decision about health insurance. Without knowing the insurance amount, it made the rest of the budget process much more difficult because board members weren’t sure how much money would ultimately be available.
At the meeting, city staff presented a giant spreadsheet showing budget items that they had recommended for approval. The budget recommended by staff had more expenditures than revenues. However, those numbers didn’t include the potential savings from changes to the employee health care plans.
The board was tasked with balancing the budget recommended by staff by cutting things out. That task proved to be difficult because the board didn’t know how health insurance would affect the city’s bottom line. In the cheapest scenario, the board would have to cut very little, but in more expensive scenarios the board would have to cut hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I think it’s a cart and horse situation,” Mayor Rick Graham said. “That’s our problem. We have to get the horse in front of the cart.”
The board attempted to cut assuming that the city would renew its current insurance plan, which would have required them to cut about $400,000.
After cutting one position from the Planning Department—for a total savings of about $8,000—and a skateboard ramp from the parks department—for a total savings of about $10,000—the board decided to revisit the budget after making a decision about health insurance. They felt they couldn’t balance the city’s operating budget without that crucial piece of information.
Without the operating budget, the board could not make much progress on the capital improvements program, the document planning for major construction projects each year. The board needed to know how much money was left over from the operating budget before turning to capital projects.
They have already discussed which projects they want to prioritize, but need to know what the operating budget will be to allocate funding for those projects.
They need to vote on the budget at two public meetings to finalize it, and they have until June 30 to get that done. If they didn’t approve a first draft of the budget at this meeting, they probably would have had to schedule additional public meetings to meet that deadline.
They decided to approve this draft of the budget even though it was far from complete to ensure that they would meet the June 30 deadline. The vote does not set anything in stone. The board will make numerous changes before final approval.