By JESSE BURKHARDT
Budget conditions appear to be going from bad to worse for the city of White Salmon.
In an Oct. 15 letter from Mayor David Poucher and City Administrator Pat Munyan, the city has put the kibosh on any new spending, including overtime pay.
"Auditors have brought to our attention that the city's balance in the general fund for 2010 is well below a safe standard to finish the year," read an excerpt of the letter, which was addressed to all employees of the city of White Salmon. "For the remainder of this calendar year, I am directing all staff heads to halt ALL overtime in the general fund without prior authorization ... this is all departments, no exceptions. All purchases outside of gas ... must be approved in writing."
"We're trying to reduce all of our general fund expenses. That's where the problem is," Poucher said.
Poucher said auditors from the Washington Auditor's Office have been to White Salmon recently and are asking the city to make some changes.
"Our revenues are down," Poucher explained. "The auditors were saying we were looking at -- at the end of the year -- at best coming in at zero. They questioned how we could pay our bills in January if we don't have any money?"
The letter specifically directed the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department to schedule officers using "standby time to increase your coverage."
Standby time means the department has an officer on call and available to quickly go on duty to help in an emergency.
Bingen-White Salmon Police Department Sgt. Jim Andring said the Police Department would make the new system work.
"It's a hardship, but it's doable," Andring said. "We will still have 24-hour coverage."
To cut the overtime, the four police officers will move to 12-hour shifts.
Andring pointed out that the department would continue its current scheduling through Halloween.
"We are going to hold on until Halloween and that whole weekend," Andring said. "We can expect goblins out in force, so we'll keep our double coverage until then."
In a sign of how bad budget conditions have gotten for the city, one part-time City Hall employee was recently laid off.
"We just needed to stop everything," Poucher said.
Poucher pointed out that the release of the employee was a result of the budget issues raised by the Washington Auditor's Office.
In a hint that even more dire remedies may be forthcoming if budget conditions continue to be bleak, the mayor's letter warned of additional personnel cuts in the future.
"The city may also need to consider and use RIF (reduction in force) and furlough to bring the city back into a healthy financial condition," the letter concluded. "The city is facing very serious financial difficulties."
"The only thing we can do is work with the numbers. We need to see where we are with the budget," Poucher said.