A divided Crossett City Council adopted a budget for the coming fiscal year Monday night, Dec. 21. The point of contention was nearly a quarter million dollars.

Four council members, C.T. Foster, James Knight, Kerstin Mondragon and Sheila Phillips, voted in favor of the budget. 

Councilmen Dale Martinie and Cary Carter voted in the minority when casting votes against the proposal.

Carter said that he thought the budget should be cut by approximately $200,000. Mayor Crystal Marshall said the budget had already been cut by 8 percent — approximately $468,226 — when compared to the 2020 budget.

“I don’t want to make cuts or lay people off unless it is absolutely necessary,” Marshall said. “If I start laying people off, then I’m afraid others will panic and lay people off and we are going to start seeing a ripple effect on our town.”

Martinie said he was concerned about the boom truck and a fire truck that the city had voted to keep in a previous meeting.

Previously, the council was presented with an opportunity to sell old equipment that had been replaced with new equipment. One item was a ladder truck at the Crossett fire station. Though a new truck had been purchased, Fire Chief Bo Higginbotham at that time had brought the idea of keeping the truck as a backup after researching the issue. He said it didn’t appear that the city was going to be able to get very much for the truck.

During that previous meeting, Knight said that he agreed with Fire Chief Bo Higgonbotham and that the truck was worth more to the city keeping it than the city could get for selling it. Most experts in the field had reported to Higgonbotham that the city could potentially get around $20,000, but there was no guarantee that the truck would sell at all. At that time council discussed the fact that it would help fire ratings for a town the size of Crossett to have two ladder trucks and ultimately voted 4-1 to in favor of keeping the truck. Martinie was not present at that meeting but said on Monday that he disagreed with keeping the truck. 

After discussing the city’s finances in depth last week, the council finally voted for City Attorney James Hamilton to read the 2021 budget proposal, which was ultimately adopted.

Marshall said when working on the proposed budget, the city administration sought out assistance from the state department of finance to track and project sales tax revenue and reached out to the county assessor’s office to project how Georgia Pacific’s partial ceasing of operations will impact the city’s 2021 revenues. 

Marshall said the administration also worked with the Arkansas Municipal League as both an advocate for Crossett as well as a resource for available assistance.

“I’d like to thank the department heads, our accountant Mr. Terrell, our county assessor’s office, and the city council for their focus, sacrifice, and creativity as we faced large budget cuts due to COVID and GP operations reductions, as well as the unknown obstacles of 2021,” Marshall said.

“We came together in the true spirit of a team and made strategic reductions in every department to minimize the impact to employees and citizens alike,” she said. “As we enter into these more uncertain times, it is vital we work together even more and ensure we are all focused on the same goal — Crossett.”

In other news Marshall announced that the city would be pursuing a FEMA grant to reimburse 75 percent of COVID-related expenses and COVID-related overtime. The grant had been submitted for approximately $60,000 in reimbursements, and Marshall said further expenses up to the deadline of April 2 will also be pursued.

She also gave an update on the status of the project to install broadband Internet in the area., saying that the contractor was working diligently to hit the fully deployed target date of Dec 30.

All the mainline fibers were up as of last week and they have shifted to working on the lasers as well as fiber splicing. All electronic equipment is racked and being configured. “It’s going to be a very tight timeline, but the service is expected to be available sometime in January,” she said.

Also last week council made appointments to the cemetery board and Parks and Recreation Commission.

The cemetery board appointments included Marilyn Harney, Angela Carpenter, Justin Burt, and Jim Toon.

Parks and Recreation appointments included Chris Friedman, Robbie Freeman, and Marlis Brown.

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