Following a Board of Mayor and Aldermen budget work session last Thursday, all town of Collierville department heads were sent an email summons to meet with Town Administrator James Lewellen the next morning.
That is all the email said.
Early Friday, the leaders of each town department filed into a conference room to await Lewellen’s news.
“The Board has asked that each of you go back to the drawing board and cut your budgets by 10 percent,” he said. “Everything’s on the table, programs, eliminating positions. The Board wants to see what a 10-percent reduction across all departments will look like.”
The room was silent, the meeting was short and the task of looking for more ways to reduce the town’s operating budget began immediately. This was particularly tough news to hear, as the department heads have already submitted operating budgets that are basically flat over the previous year’s budget.
The town is working with a $2 million deficit due to declines in revenue.
Therefore, the Board is leaving no rock unturned in an effort to create savings and minimize the reality of a property tax increase.
Since January, the Board has spent hours examining and discussing the town’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
With a deadline to have the budget balanced by June 30, the Board will continue to meet frequently in the coming months to explore all possible solutions to balance the budget.
Reducing department budgets by 10 percent will mean that some programs could be eliminated. Opportunities to improve service through new technology may also be delayed for years and vacant positions within departments might not be filled.
While adjusting operational procedures provides cost-saving solutions over time, delaying or eliminating departmental purchases helps balance a tight budget immediately.
For example, the Collierville Library had plans to make improvements to technology services offered to patrons. The library needs to upgrade software that would create a more “Amazon” experience for patrons: offering online customer reviews, customized recommendations, and a more overall integration with all library services.
However, with current software in place meeting the needs of library patrons and staff, the upgrades are not necessarily crucial for the library to function and are a costly expense that could likely be eliminated from the budget.
In addition to technology improvements, the library could use a few physical upgrades as the building is now 18 years old. Furniture and carpeting are experiencing wear, along with walls in need of repainting.
The need for more space, diverse functionality, outdoor programming and a parking lot repaving are all important, yet costly. These are improvements that the library could recommend being delayed for the future.
In years past, town department heads have responded to similar budget challenges but not to this extent.
The Sanitation Division made a significant impact in operation costs when it changed from working five days a week to four, 10-hour workdays. Crews were able to effectively provide sanitation services for the entire town while taking on new customers. The department ultimately saved $250,000 annually in personnel and equipment costs.
Other divisions within Collierville Public Services took similar approaches to modifying operations to minimize cost while maximizing service. The Streets and Drainage Division implemented a tablet work order system to reduce office hours, provide more accurate documentation and provide real-time updates as work is completed. Labor costs went down as procedure efficiency improved.
The Utilities Division take advantage of internal expertise to look for cost savings when it comes to purchasing new or refurbished electrical components. Buying used equipment or parts often results in savings for the town.
Recently, an electrician in the Utilities Division recommended that Public Services purchase a refurbished variable frequency drive for a pump station for $4,800 rather than buying a new one for $16,000.
With each step the town’s departments take toward reducing costs, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen is granted more options to balance the budget. In many cases, this means that programs will be cut, improvements to services will be delayed and facilities will go longer without maintenance upgrades.