Jellico internal memo becomes public, layoffs suggested

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JELLICO, Tenn. (WVLT) -- The city of Jellico knows a thing or two about tough economic times. Right now, it's facing a nearly $140,000 budget shortfall for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

Mayor Les Stiers said that's because wholesale beer taxes and local and state sales tax revenues are down.

"We're going to struggle to get through this, but we're going to get through it," said Stiers.

Vice mayor Venita Johnson has a plan: in an internal memo that became public earlier this month, she wants the city to cut the police force in half and lay off four officers, along with a street department worker and a sanitation employee.

"The reason I feel like that is a good idea is because when the Comptroller came in and talked to us and everything, the first thing they mentioned was 'Why do we have so many police officers on duty for such a small town?'" said Johnson.

Police Chief Chris Anderson said the layoffs are a bad idea. He said four officers can't handle the city's call volume and patrol contracts, putting the community's safety at risk. Anderson also said Jellico would likely have to pay back a federal grant of more than $100,000 if officers are cut.

"It was was awarded to us in 2009. It was for three years - they pay the police officer's salary and benefits were included in there for three years. Then the city has to keep the officers on for one year after the grant expired on their end," said Anderson.

Mayor Stiers said the layoffs would save the city about $300,000, but said he won't approve them.

"The mindset of this council is to cut people and services - not to raise revenue," said Stiers.

He said council members recently increased garbage collection fees by $3.00 and approved selling some city-owned land - and he wants even more projects like that. But Johnson said it won't be enough.

Stiers said he's hopeful council members will approve additional money-making ideas at their next meeting on December 20.

Some of his ideas include having city employees pay part of their healthcare premiums and reducing the number of street lights on North Main Street. He said energy-efficient bulbs would be placed in the remaining lights.