The prospect of lower-than-anticipated employee medical insurance rates has Pine Bluff city officials hopeful that a presently tight 2015 budget will be a little less so.

The prospect of lower-than-anticipated employee medical insurance rates has Pine Bluff city officials hopeful that a presently tight 2015 budget will be a little less so.

The Pine Bluff City Council Administration Committee will meet Thursday to determine the city’s best options for insurance coverage.

City Auditor Gina Devers said on Wednesday that the city’s current insurance carrier QualChoice is offering a rate reduction for 2015 of 2 percent, while other carriers are offering bigger rate reductions.

Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth said that United Health is offering a 10.3 percent rate reduction and Arkansas Blue Cross-Blue Shield is offering a 12.7 percent reduction.

Representatives of the companies will go over the details at the administration committee meeting Thursday, Devers said.

Devers said it is unclear what factors have created the situation where rate reductions are possible, but they hope that is part of what the representatives will talk about.

Department meetings

Hollingsworth and finance department Director Steve Miller have been meeting this week with the heads of city departments who submitted 2015 budgets that were above the targets set by Miller.

They met on Monday with the heads of the street department and the parks and recreation department and on Tuesday with the head of Pine Bluff Transit.

There were several additional meetings planned for the rest of the week but these have been rescheduled until after the administrative committee meeting so that accurate numbers can be included in the departmental budgets.

"Each department was asked to submit a 2015 budget that is 1.5 percent below last year’s adopted budget," Miller said. "Our projected revenue is down $400,000 — or 1.5 percent — of the budget, so we have to reduce our budget across the board by the same percentage.

"The street department had $500,000 budgeted for pavement overlay," Miller said. "They also budgeted $170,000 for debt service funding, which is to repay their share of bond proceeds. The adopted budget from last year only included $400,000. So, we reduced the overlay budget down to $300,000. We can’t change the debt service, but with the overlay reduction, we are coming out $75,000 on the plus side."

Miller said that the issue with the parks department was determining how to fund the operating budgets for the new splash park and Townsend Park baseball field complex.

"Altogether, we’re looking at around $40,000 for the splash park and $20,000 for Townsend Park," Miller said. "At the mayor’s direction, we are going to take funds from the $400,000 set aside for the multi-purpose center operating budget to pay these operating budgets next year."

Pine Bluff Transit Manager Charlina Lacy met with Miller and Hollingsworth on Tuesday morning.

Miller said that the Federal Transit Administration provides a grant to Pine Bluff Transit that provides a 50 percent reimbursement for fuel and administrative costs and 80 percent for buses and bus parts.

"The budget presented by the transit department reflected a $450,000 reduction in the FTA grant," Miller said. "But these are calculated based on expenditures."

Lacy said that she will have a better idea of how much the FTA grant will be after Nov. 1 when the FTA provides updated data on its website.

"It didn’t appear consistent that we had an expenditure increase of $65,000 that had to come out of the general fund," Miller said. "The grant didn’t seem to go down proportionately with the cost."

Lacy said that the Southeast Arkansas Regional Planning Commission is in the process of conducting a bus route efficiency study.

"We may be able to see some savings in shorter routes," Miller said.

The meetings with the economic and community development department, the Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Department, the Pine Bluff Municipal Airport, Pine Bluff District Court Division II and Metropolitan Emergency Communications Association will be from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Friday.

The meeting with the Pine Bluff Police Department will be 1:30 p.m. Monday.

Miller said that the mayor’s budget is due to be submitted to the Pine Bluff City Council by the end of October.

Miller said that the Pine Bluff City Council Ways and Means Committee meets Friday, Nov. 24, to finalize the draft budget that the full council will vote on in December.