BISBEE — Newly elected Bisbee Mayor Ken Budge faces an uphill battle in the first year of his administration as the city faces budget shortfalls, business slowdowns, reduced revenues and a seemingly relentless pandemic.
Even so, he is willing to shoulder the responsibility of what lies ahead with a determination to better the lives of people in Bisbee.
Budge, a retired captain and firefighter/paramedic and a former city councilman representing Ward 1, purchased a home on Chihuahua Hill above OK Street in 1995 and set about renovating it with his wife Mary Alice, a retired elementary school teacher. From his perch, he acts as Bisbee’s weatherman, recognized by the National Weather Service, to bring real time weather conditions to the residents.
When asked what the first thing he wanted to do after being sworn in, he replied, “My goal starting the first of the year will be to bring Bisbee out of the shutdown when conditions allow and bring our local government closer to the people it serves.”
Herald/Review: Do you plan to hold a work session or discuss during a meeting the shortfalls in the budget due to the sales tax referendum failing and the impact of COVID–19.
Budge: The city manager and I are talking about the budget. It is really up to her to keep spending in check for the rest of the year. According to the last financial report, for sales, vehicle, property and state revenue we are about 3% behind, which is not too bad. The big problem is again in charges for services. Ambulance fees, down due to giving all transfers to Arizona Ambulance, fire inspection fees which were waived recently by council and projection of $90,000 in revenue for ambulance subscriptions are the major reasons we are running behind in revenue. Revenues are under budget by $166,000.
Come January, when we get December’s financials, it will show revenue and expense midyear and will be the best point to project how we might look by fiscal year end and where changes might need to be made.
Herald/Review: Do you see any ways the city could cut costs?
Budge: If needed, which I think it will, my feeling is the manager needs to go back to each department, and I am guessing here at this point, and she will need to ask for a 10% cut in spending across the board. Each department head will need to see where he or she can come up with those cuts.
Herald/Review: Will you continue to look into cost savings as was the case with a recent Public Works equipment request?
Budge: I will always look at every bi-monthly accounts payable and the monthly financials to see what we are spending on and how to see the trends in revenue vs., expenses are going. A lot of unknowns with COVID–19 and when we get back to a more stable time in revenue. The goal will be to not get too far behind in revenue vs expenses, because it will be that much harder to correct as the budget year draws to a close.
Herald/Review: With the approval of extension of premises allowing restaurants to expand services to outdoor dining, how will the city manage parking?
Budge: The approval of extension of premises allowing restaurants and bars to expand services to outdoor service could take a few of the parking locations. I believe that that is an acceptable loss as they are required to operate at a reduced occupancy. So fewer people need fewer parking spaces. Trying to keep the doors open for our business, safely, is important in the overall current health and future comeback of our city.
Herald/Review: Former Mayor David Smith provided Bisbee residents with a daily count from the state on the status of COVID–19 cases. Will you continue to do that?
Budge: I don’t not plan to have a Mayor Facebook page as my predecessor did. I feel if there is something the mayor needs to disseminate, it should be on the city website or city Facebook page. Most people know how to get the numbers, locations and level of COVID–19 cases.
Herald/Review: Do you support the city manager’s efforts on affordable low cost housing for the city? Do you have any ideas to bring more such housing to Bisbee?
Budge: In these few two weeks, I have not had time as of yet to get fully informed on the three programs the city is working on for affordable housing. I support efforts to create more affordable housing, I just want to be sure that what the city is doing will get the most band for the buck. Also, that it is truly affordable that can do the most good for the most in need.
Herald/Review: How will you handle letters from the public during the shutdown?
Budge: I am working on the way we can handle all the letters from the public. First, I am going to ask that if people want to submit a comment, then it needs to be received by noon on the meeting date. I will then get to see them beforehand and put them into the right sequence and if there are too many to be read. I will have to figure out which ones are different or say the same thing. My thought is if there are too many alike, that at least their names are read for their submission and that they all get scanned into the minutes. I am also going to have Ashlee time them. At a past meeting, there were 25 letters and at three minutes apiece, that would be over an hour and a bit much. Not sure how else to handle it, I hope to keep it to now more than 30 minutes total.