The Town of Register has been battling financial potholes for several months following a tax issue over the summer that set the town back more than $50,000, but now, it seems it is the Police Department that has the town on the verge of bankruptcy.
Tuesday’s council meeting showed the November profit and loss sheet with a (-$4,036.39). Though documents on year to date financials were not readily available, AllOnGeorgia previously reported financial findings through the end of the previous fiscal year. Of even greater concern is that $4150 in payroll is due on December 23 between the police department, the water department and the general fund and the money is not there.
Current operating account balances show:
- General Fund: $2,143 cash on hand with $150 owed 12/23 (Leaves $1,993.71)
- Water Department: $2,704.09 cash on hand with $500 owed 12/23 (Leaves $2,204.09)
- Police Department: $1,249.24 cash on hand with $3,500 owed on 12/23 (Needs $2,251)
Additionally, between liability insurance and workman’s comp insurance, Register owes $4,734.50. Couple that with the $3,029.58 in past due add on’s for the police department (due to police officer’s annuity fund and drug abuse treatment funds), the town has $11,914.08 in liabilities due to various personnel and agencies by the end of the year.
One recurring issue, however, is the Register Police Department’s enormous expenses. Operating on a budget of nearly $300,000 annually for a town of just 168, the salary of Chief Tom Kile at $41,000 is just one of the expenses breaking the bank. Additionally, one officer is paid 16 hours a week whether he shows up or not, illustrating that the issue is much bigger that reducing the size of the force. Following the December 23 payroll date, the town will once again be pressed to find funds to pay officers.
The $17,048.50 the police department collected in revenue just in the month of November is not enough to cover the expenses of the department and $3,852.57 is owed by the PD to the General Fund.
Mayor John Williams said repeatedly that the issue at hand has nothing to do with the appreciation of the police, but whether the town can afford it. “We’re in a crisis right now.” Council members noted that 77 tickets, on average, must be written every month for the town to break even, bringing into question the purpose of having a police department at all.
The Register Town Council began brainstorming resolutions for close to two hours, debating whether to temporarily suspend the police department, eliminate it all together, or make further cuts.
Councilwoman Brittany Brannen asked if anyone ran the numbers of cutting the hours of police officers and the economic impact of such versus the eliminating the department entirely. Much frustration from the public was expressed when the answer was ‘NO’ because a similar question was asked back in September when the issue first came to light.
Again, the suggestion was made by the public to dissolve the police department and return the control to the Sheriff’s office, who already responds to calls when Register police officers are not on duty. No one on council has received a quote or talked with anyone from the county to see how much that would cost the city to contract back with the county for law enforcement.
If Register dissolves the police department, the town will need to establish another service in addition to streetlights and water in order to remain a municipality. That could mean a park, a library, or a series of other services, but few are revenue generating. The town will still have water revenue, franchise fees, and probation fines to use for operating expenses, and while multiple members of the crowd suggested passing a liquor ordinance to make up the difference, it was quickly shut down my some members of the council.
Mayor pro-tem Barbara Rushing said she spoke with the town accountant who explained that eliminating the police department entirely would not solve the budget problems of the town because revenue would also decrease, but there is no question that eliminating an annual expense of $300,000 would help in dire circumstances.
After much debate, council voted to reduce two of the four officers to reserves who will only be paid when they are called to work, however, no cap on the number of hours was instated. Terry Kile was reduced to 30 hours per week, as was Chief Tom Kile, both of whom will only work Thursday through Sunday. The $2,241 needed to make police payroll will be pulled from the $5,100 in a money market account. The council voted unanimously on both the officer reduction and the emergency transfer of funds.
Ultimately, the bleeding has to be controlled. Register can make payroll on December 23, but beyond that, there are no answers. Another payroll will be due the first week of January and the town faces Department of Labor fines and sanctions if they are unable to pony up. The meeting adjourned without resolve on the other $7,764 in accounts receivable, some of which continue to accumulate late fees for every day they go unpaid.
The council will meet again on December 29th at Register City Hall at 6:30 p.m.