Smith: "Budget Choices Tough"

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The Meridian City Council will reduce the proposed FY 2003 budget by $600,000, plus compensate for $200,000 in lower administrative fees charged to the water department -- or $800,000 in all.

The mayor said Wednesday a list is ready from which the council can decide.

"What we have done is we have gone through and removed the things that would cause default," said Smith. "We've also removed anything from the list that would shut down entire programs or buildings. Then everything else is on the list. And it's a list of about $1.2 million and legitimate choices that one could make and the council will need to choose $800,000 of that $1.2 million."

The mayor warned what might happen if the council elects a hiring freeze.

"You'd be nine police officers short. I don't think that's what the public wants," said Smith. "You'd be two firefighters short. There are, I want to say, some seven short in Public Works. Mark Naylor, as you know, he's three short in the parks department plus he needs three more in the parks department so a freeze would have him six short and you've added a new park for him to keep up so those are the kind of choices that will have to be wrestled with."

The mayor said the council has given itself a difficult job.

"I think what you're going to wind up doing is instead of choosing what you cut you're going to choose the things that you feel you have to save and then everything else gets cut."

The city council will meet again Thursday morning to address the issue of where to tighten spending for the next 12 months.