Marlin: City to lower budget due to ticket shortfall

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MARLIN, Texas (KWTX) The City of Marlin is breaking even for the first fiscal quarter of the year but isn't seeing enough ticket revenue to fulfill its budgetary obligations, according to city officials.

(Photo by Christopher Shadrock/file)

"We kind of knew that may potentially happen, and so there are things in our budget that we can work with and play with to get us back in line," said Mayor John Keefer.

While it's illegal to create traffic ticket quotas, municipalities are allowed to estimate the amount of money its court anticipates will be collected in a budget year, according to the traffic section of the Texas Penal Code.

Keefer says they've been monitoring revenue and aren't quite where they thought they'd be.

He says it's likely due to recent shakeups within Marlin PD.

"We're not at full staff, we had a lot of major changes in the police department - in doing that, we're probably not going to hit those numbers," said Keefer.

Former Chief Mike Pesses retired in October and, after a controversial search, in December the city council chose a newly-hired detective, Nathan Sodek, to be the next Chief of Police.

"We're understaffed, we so far have not been able to create the traffic division that we want, that's why we're monitoring our budget and revenues to make sure we're in place as far as expenses versus revenue," said Keefer.

During the council meeting, City Manger Alan Grindstaff revealed the city was more than $47,500 in the red in it's General Fund for fiscal year 2017/2018, and needed to transfer money from the Water Fund to fill the deficit.

The council unanimously approved the move, however, councilman Scottie Henderson expressed concern it was going to happen again because Marlin police officers weren't writing as many tickets as they anticipated.

"I'm saying we're going to be running into the same problem," said Henderson.

In a somewhat heated exchange, Grindstaff responded by saying he doesn't like overspending and is constantly monitoring the city's revenue.

"It's something that I'm watching closely, probably more so than you are," said Grindstaff. "I'm well aware of what we have brought in and have not brought in."

Grindstaff says in the last fiscal year, Marlin brought in more than $250,000 in ticket revenue.

They're on track to double that this year Grindstaff says, however, it's still below what they anticipated.

"You're telling me we're going to be on-point, even though we're behind already?" Henderson asked the city manager.

To hit original estimates, police need to write around 500 tickets per month, however, they were hitting about half of that which was still more than last year, Grindstaff pointed out.

"We reduced it down from the original budget of $700,000...the adjusted budget now takes it down to $517,000," said Grindstaff. "We will make that money, from what the Chief tells me, we will."

The council tabled a motion to amend the budget to make it lower, instead deciding to hold a budget workshop in the coming weeks.

"We are looking at it, we are evaluating it, we have some high numbers in our budget, we have high expectations," said Keefer.

Despite the ticket shortfall, Keefer said they should be in a good financial position going forward.

"Overall, I'm extremely happy with out first quarter," said Keefer. "We're at a break-even: we're supposed to be at 25 percent, we're at 25 percent."

Grindstaff's employment, as well as that of City Secretary Sandra Herring and Fire Chief Justin Parker, was evaluated during executive session.

No action was taken against any of them.

Grindstaff said it was his fourth such evaluation in 35 years of city administration.

Herring said this was the first evaluation she's had in the last 12 years working for the City of Marlin.

"We've probably never had a council that works the way we do either," said Keefer. "We feel part of building process and procedures and organizing the City Hall, which is part of what most of this council agreed to during elections, part of keeping that straight is doing your evaluations of your employees," said Keefer.

The Mayor said it was "truly just evaluations" and termination was not discussed.

"I think we want the same as any city...we want to make sure we are communicating to our citizens," said Keefer.

The council also discussed water and drainage issues, which have historically been problematic for the small town.

An engineer working with the City of Marlin, Gil Gregory with MRB Group, gave an update on some of the city's ongoing water projects.

One involving a water clarifier drive has been stalled; Gregory says the USDA has to do a final inspection but can't due to the government shutdown.

Marlin's elected officials also approved delaying the application deadline for a new Court Prosecutor in order to be fair and attract more candidates.

"The current prosecutor will continue doing work he needs to until he's replaced," said Grindstaff.

And in a rare move, the council voted against approving the minutes for several past meetings at the request of councilwoman Susan Byrd, who says, according to Texas Municipal League guidelines, need to report "what was done, not what was said."