LEIGHTON — Town Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to cut three employees to part-time status as part of a continuing effort to reduce the town’s expenses.
Town Clerk Destin Berryman and two men who work in the Street Department will work 20 hours per week beginning in January.
Mayor John Landers made the recommendation during Tuesday’s council meeting and said he hopes the change will be temporary.
The reduction will help the town’s financial situation, but Landers said more has to be done.
“It does not create a positive cash flow,” the mayor said. “We will need more cuts after the first of the year. We can get it worked out, but it’s going to take us a while.”
The cuts are another step toward digging the east Colbert County town out of the financial hole that was discovered as the new administration was preparing to take office in November. Landers and others found out the town of 729 residents is essentially broke.
“This is the first step,” Landers said. “We have to cut some other things. We have to cut expenses.”
The town received about $800,000 in 2009 when it sold its share of the Lawrence-Colbert Gas District. The money was mostly used to pay off all of the town’s outstanding debts. Officials began spending the remaining money from the deal until it was gone.
An audit of the town’s revenues and expenditures showed Leighton took in $684,212 in revenue during the 2011-12 fiscal year, and spent $942,925, leaving a deficit of $258,000. The town also lost about $50,000 during the past three years because of overdraft fees.
To cut costs, Leighton also has reduced its police force and now has two full-time and one part-time officer. The council also has eliminated all overtime pay.
In a bit of good news, the town will begin receiving the revenue from garbage collection fees either this month or next. For two or three years the town’s water board was receiving the revenue from garbage collections while the town picked up the expenses. The change will provide the town with about $5,000 a month.
Landers told the council Tuesday he wants to secure a short-term loan that would be backed by the garbage revenue. He said the money would be used to pay down about $50,000 in short-term debt the town is facing.
“It’s a good thing we don’t have any long-term indebtedness,” Landers said.
Landers said other revenue collected by the city would cover the cost of payroll. While the amount is unclear, he said the town is expected to receive a Tennessee Valley Authority in lieu of tax payment soon.
The mayor said he also will talk to representatives of Sheffield Utilities about reducing utility costs, possibly by shutting off certain street lights in town.
Utilities run about $3,500 a month, Berryman said. That includes utility costs for city buildings, the town’s park and street lights.
Councilman Mike Gower offered to give up his $200 monthly councilman’s pay if it would help. Landers said if all five council members gave up their pay it would only amount to $1,000 a month. Landers already has waived his pay as mayor.
It was not clear if reducing the three employees’ hours to part-time would affect their benefits, but the mayor said the town is about $4,000 behind in insurance payments.
“These people don’t have any insurance,” Landers said during the meeting.
Berryman said she offered to be laid off if it could help the town keep the two Street Department employees at full-time. Landers said during the meeting it would not help.
“I love this town and I want to see this town grow,” Berryman said after the meeting. “At the end of the day, we have to have revenue.”
Berryman said she would have continued to provide services on a voluntary basis.
The council received some encouragement from former mayor Robert Ricks.
“This is my town and I love it,” Ricks said. “Whatever transpires, make sure you work together.”
Landers said he plans to form a committee to make suggestions on how to improve the town and also to help clean up Leighton. He said there is the prospect of a new business opening in town, but the better the town looks, the more likely a business will come.
Russ Corey can be reached at 256-740-5738 or russ.corey@TimesDaily.com.