In less than a month Mayor John Dickert will stand before aldermen and present his 2015 budget and so far the picture looks fairly bleak.
The City has projected a budget shortfall of between $4 million and $6 million next year.
Having police and firefighters contribute more towards their benefits is expected to help ease that shortfall by about $2 million.
But that still leaves a significant gap and one that cannot be filled by simply going to a reserve account. They have dipped into that sugar pot one too many times, and officials said it’s not an option next year.
That means, as every year, that tough decisions must be made.
One of those tough decisions pertains to BelleTV, the city’s cable access channel formerly known as CAR25.
The station was formerly run by private contractor Skies Fall Media Group under a $106,000-a- year contract. But it’s been run by the city’s information services department since June, when aldermen voted to terminate the contract.
Along with terminating the contract, the city cut back services primarily to the recording of City Council meetings.
While ideally it would be nice to continue funding a full station with staff, the fact of the matter is that the station is a novelty not a necessity.
The city receives roughly $800,000 in franchise fees from Time Warner and AT&T each year. Of that money, a little over 10 percent, or around $82,000, has typically gone to fund channel operations, while the rest goes into the city’s general fund.
But that money is now needed elsewhere.
Last year the city removed streetlights because of budget constraints. And earlier this year they debated cutting night and Sunday BUS service.
After public outcry from the many riders who depend on the BUS to get to work, the city fortunately did not make those cuts. It was the right decision considering that number of people who could have lost their rides to work, but it left another budget hole.
With the budget coming out in less than a month, aldermen should not procrastinate making the tough decisions on BelleTV.
They need to stick to the basics for the station and then use the rest of the funds to fill the budget holes.
Buses must run. Potholes must be filled. Police squads and fire stations must be staffed.
But special features on cable access don’t have to air.
It’s time to prioritize.