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LaFayette works on budget

The LaFayette City Council is still working to pass the city’s 2020-21 budget. The city’s fiscal year began in October of 2020, so time is running out for the council to pass the city’s budget, as only six months remain in the fiscal year.

If it were to be passed as it is currently presented, the city would lose $1.876 million, as only the electric company, wastewater plant and the city’s overall general revenues are netting a gain for the city.

Because of this fact, Councilmembers Terry Mangram, Toney B. Thomas and Tammie B. Williams have been working with each department head to tighten the city’s expenditures as much as possible.

On Monday, the city’s budget committee met with Fire Chief James Doody and Police Chief George Rampey.

“We’re going to look at your budget and what you presented here, and we’re going to ask you to redo it,” Mangram said to the two chiefs. “We’re going to ask you to go back and see if there are some places that you can tighten this thing up. We’re going to try to get everybody to where we can operate in the plus. We’re going to try to get the things and have the things for this city to operate like it’s supposed to. We can’t do it this year.

“We’re not going to pass this budget if we leave the numbers the way they look. The whole city is going to be in the red. We’re not going to tell you [Doody], you’re over budget on the ambulance, park it. We’re not going to ask you because we still have to run it.”

Doody is in charge of the fire department’s and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) budgets for the city.

The proposed EMS budget is currently $528,550, which is nearly $42,000 less than what the department actually spent in the 2019-20 fiscal year. The proposed fire budget is $484,250, which is roughly the same as what was spent during the actual 2019-20 fiscal year.

The big difference between the two EMS budgets is the amount of overtime Doody has budgeted for, as in the one and a half years that he’s been the city’s fire chief, he has increased the EMS and fire department’s personnel to 15 full-time employees and 15 part-time employees.

“We’ve hired a few more individuals since I took over a little more than a year and a half ago. The increase in full-time employees significantly cut the overtime cost, which was one of the things I was tasked with when I took the position,” Doody said.

When he took over, Doody said he had just four full-time employees (five including himself) and about six part-time employees. The hire of 10 new employees made the budget $71,000 more than originally planned for at the time.

“When I first took the position and was taken down to the firehouse to meet the personnel, I shook hands with Mark Fulton and Todd Angel and asked where everyone else was. They said ‘there is none. This is it,’” Doody said. “I knew the fire department and EMS was hurting, but I didn’t know to that extent.”

Workers at the fire station work 24/48 shifts, meaning shift A works for 24 hours before being off for two days. Each shift has six workers, two for the fire truck and two for each ambulance.

One of the big needs of the fire department is a new fire truck, which would cost roughly $525,000. The city’s current truck is a 1996 model. Doody said he is seeking a grant that would pay for some of the truck but not the entirety. The remainder of the department’s bunker gear, which would cost $32,000, portable radios, which would cost about $4,410 and computers for the firehouse are some other costs that are wanted.

The proposed police budget is $957,822.80, compared to the actual spend during the 2019-20 fiscal year of $974,463.68 ($16,640.88 difference).

One of the biggest differences is the prisoner meals. Rampey has $20,000 budgeted for the fiscal year but spent only 8,610.33 in 2019-20. This was heavily affected by the start of the COVID-19 pandemic Rampey said.

“That goes up and down. The big difference between last year is with COVID-19 and they [the county prison] stopped accepting prisoners,” Rampey said. “The normal arrests, failure to pay, failure to appear or misdemeanors, they were not handled at the jail. They have opened it up just a little bit more now.”

As of Monday’s meeting, the LaFayette Police Department has 13 full-time employees, which includes 11 officers and a code enforcement officer. Rampey said a full staff would need three more officers.

“It has always been run where we have two officers per shift then you have your investigators, captain and the chief. We have compromised a lot with this,” Rampey said. “We’re trying to make it work with this. When you talk about public safety, there can be a time where nothing happens. People don’t always value the presence of an officer until they need it. That’s when it’s too late. With what we have been working with, I think we have done a great job. Every time you turn on the TV, there’s a murder. If you look at all our murder cases that have happened over the past three years, someone has been brought in front of the court. We have had an arrest in all of those cases. Our crime rate is down, and that is something that people need to value.”