Shirley town officials are considering trimming police and utility services next year to help balance the budget, which is facing a $218,000 shortfall.Clerk-treasurer Teresa Hester discovered earlier this year the town would end the year with a deficit in its $492,000 general fund, which is used to pay daily operating expenses.

To balance the town’s finances, she’s suggested the town council trim police services, eliminate a part-time position in town hall and require residents to pay for their currently town-funded trash service, among other cuts.

The town’s proposed 2017 budget is nearly $530,000, an approximately $88,000 decrease from this year’s budget. In addition, some expenses will be paid from other accounts to balance the general fund.

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More than $60,000 in cuts are proposed for the town’s 2017 general fund, financial records show. Another $47,000 used to pay for fire and police services will be paid out of the local option income tax fund, an account reserved for public safety spending, rather than from the general fund.

Hester began warning the town council in July that cuts would be necessary to bring the town’s finances back into the black, though town council president Dennis Denney said she expressed her concerns to him even earlier, just a few months after taking office Jan. 1.

Hester and the town council have remained tight-lipped about potential cuts, saying they didn’t want to alarm residents.

“She had been in there a couple months, she had started going through the numbers, and she said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a problem,’” said Denney, who has served on the council for 16 years.

Audits from the Indiana State Board of Accounts from 2011 to 2015 noted discrepancies in the town’s bookkeeping and state the “the town did not properly maintain accounting records” under former clerk-treasurer Marla Kemerly, who retired from the office after 20 years in December.

Denney said he was shocked when he learned the town’s finances were such a mess, as he and other town council members had trusted Kemerly’s bookkeeping practices.

Kemerley, who did not return calls to the Daily Reporter, tracked much of the town’s finances in ledger books rather than electronic computer systems, which would have automatically calculated fund balances, Hester said.

In response letters to the Indiana State Board of Accounts, Kemerly cited the stress of several deaths in her family and her own lack of technological skill as issues contributing to her inability to balance the budget.

Hester said she’s recommending a variety of small cuts across the budget — spending $2,000 less for office supplies, for example — but some larger cuts were unavoidable.

Shirley’s 2017 budget, which is slated for town council approval in October, decreases the town’s police force from two full-time officers to one full-time officer and one part-time officer. The cut should save at least $20,000 to $30,000 in salary and benefits, Hester said.

The town’s financial woes have already affected the police department, said Town Marshal Brian Pryor. One of his police vehicles’ radar equipment recently broke, and the town council denied his request to replace it, citing concerns about the budget, he said.

With little wiggle room in his budget, he’s looking at grant funding for everything from training to police cruisers, he said.

“We have to make sure vehicles are maintained,” he said.

The clerk-treasurer’s office will also eliminate a part-time assistant position at the end of the year, Hester said, a move that will save about $6,000.

Hester also proposes elimination of nearly all of the town’s funding set aside for trash pickup, a move that will save about $29,500 next year. The town council will likely pass an ordinance passing the bill to residents. Shirley residents will see their utility bills increase by approximately $10 per month.

In 2017, the town will end the year with about $600, Hester said.

If you go

The Shirley Town Council will discuss the 2017 budget at an upcoming public meeting.

The town council meets next at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 1 at Shirley Town Hall, 409 S. Main St., Shirley. Members of the public are welcome to speak.

Cuts are coming

Proposed cuts in the 2017 town of Shirley budget:

Trash service: Shirley has always paid for its residents’ trash pickup, but officials suggest having residents foot the bill will save the town about $29,000 next year.

Police services: Officials propose reducing one police officer’s hours from full-time to part-time, a move that will save $20,000 to $30,000 in salary and benefits.

Part-time help: The 2017 budget eliminates a part-time assistant position in the town hall, saving about $6,000.

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.