11:19 PM EDT, September 26, 2012
The city of Anderson will have fewer police officers on the streets and even fewer firefighters available if the new city budget becomes reality.
Mayor Kevin Smith has submitted a budget that would cut seven police officers and 23 firefighters in order to erase a $1.5 million budget deficit. Smith said the city lost revenue due to property tax caps and has to pay more for road repairs because the county cut a wheel tax.
Some residents said they feel uneasy about the potential consequences of the cuts.
"It seems like it will be forever for someone to be there," said Jessica Oliver of Anderson.
"Where we're at in Anderson is really not even a matter of how we feel about things, it's what money we have available,” Mayor Smith said. “We're literally at that point where we have no more dollars."
Mayor Smith said the city has avoided the cuts for several years while trimming other areas of the budget. He said the last mayor added 34 police officers and firefighters even though the city was losing revenue to pay for them.
"It's a financial reality of the times. It was delayed in Anderson by four years, and we've had to deal with the financial conditions that we've found," Smith said. "We're headed in the right direction. We're just becoming more realistic with our budgets."
The city council is now deciding whether to approve the proposed budget, but the council won’t have all the say. The city is fighting the firefighters' union in court because of a recently signed contract that doesn’t allow for layoffs. The city contends that there is no other option left in order to balance the budget.
"We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” said Anderson Fire Chief Phillip Rogers. “Whatever number comes out, we will make due."
Despite the cuts, Mayor Smith said the staffing level for police and firefighters will still put them on par with similarly sized cities when it comes to response times, but Rogers admits that residents will notice a difference if 23 firefighters are lost.
"Times may change in different areas, slower response times in different areas,” Rogers said. “But we'll still come through."
That's not something some residents want to test.
"I know a lot of people who will leave this town because it's already unsafe,” said Eric Oliver of Anderson. “I'm going to be one of them."
If the city loses its court battle over the firefighters' contract, Smith said there will likely be more cuts to police.