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Kingston edgy over budget stresses

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By The Staff

By TERRI LIKENS

tlikens@roanecounty.com

Behind every discussion at the Kingston City Council workshop this week loomed a budget that has not lived up to expectations.

The repercussions of that budget put an edge in many city officials’ voices Tuesday night.

Falling revenues were the main complaint, but city financial director Carolyn Brewer noted another reason for belt-tightening.

When summarizing the city’s quarterly financial report for the council, she noted that a quirk in the budget calendar had caught city officials off-guard.

For the first time in Brewer’s 31 years with the city, Kingston had 27 two-week payroll periods — not the 26 it had budgeted for.

And now the city is having to make up the extra $75,000 in payroll and benefits within an already battered budget.

“We have been navigating through a financial storm” since the 2008-09 budget, City Manager Jim Pinkerton told the council.

How to deal with the problem was the subject of extensive debate.

Pinkerton said he and department supervisors have been trying to cut costs where possible.

City Counilman Brant Williams launched a debate over whose role it is to decide what to cut when the budget falls short.

“Where you want to save money may be exactly where we don’t want to save money,” he told the city manager.

“We approve a line-item budget,” Williams added. “We allocate that money in order to accomplish a goal. I look at it like we should have some line-item control.”

Other council members defended Pinkerton’s efforts.

“We work under a city-manager form of government,” Councilman Tim Neal said. “He runs the day-to-day operations for the city.”

Councilman Don White also approved of Pinkerton’s efforts to make cuts in areas like office supplies and delaying purchases, when possible.

“We’ve got to be careful where we’re headed,” he said. “He’s curtailing all he can curtail.”

And although Pinkerton said he was willing to work with the council on spending cuts, White also warned about making the city manager’s job too difficult.

He noted the high rate of turnover in city managers in earlier years.

“We went through them like Coca-Colas in a Coke machine,” White said.