A day of deliberations led to across-the-board cuts in town employee salaries and benefits for Dugger, moves officials called crucial steps in squaring up troubled finances.
Meeting in special session at the Community Center beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday, and breaking only for two hours, the Dugger Town Council pored over the budget reports until 6:30 p.m., seeking means to save around $4,000 per month.
While the council generally agreed on the cost savings, no formal vote occurred Wednesday. That's expected to occur when the changes are formally drafted into an ordinance and considered by the council during next week's session at 6 p.m. Monday.
Ultimately, the council called in most of the town employees Wednesday evening, discussing layoffs and pay cuts which affected nearly everyone employed by the town.
"We didn't like doing it," said Town Council President Dwight Nielson. "I hated doing what I did...It was fair. The board approved 100 percent of it."
The changes were crucial, said Clerk-Treasurer Michelle Riggleman.
Presently, all the town's budgets are operating at a deficit, with a $20,000 shortfall in the General Fund. The town's water bill to the City of Linton was paid late this month.
She also gestured to a stack of as-yet-unmailed bills which will have to wait until revenue comes in to cover their costs.
Ultimately, three town workers were laid off, and pay cuts of around 15 percent affected nearly all town employees.
Losing their jobs in the cuts are the town's water meter reader Connie Bohnert, the custodian for the town's community center Kathy Goodman, and former Town Council President Bill Pirtle.
Pirtle's wife Susie, who works for the cemetery, will also see her monthly salary reduced from $635 to $435. The couple also previously had dental insurance through the town, which Riggleman eliminated.
The town council offered some comfort to those losing their jobs: Bohnert, who's paid monthly and had already begun reading meters, will receive half her usual pay. Goodman will be allowed to clean the community center when it's left untidy by those using it, and their deposits will be kept to pay her.
The town council, after much debate, decided to donate 20 percent of their own wages back to the cash-strapped community. That amounts to $531 in savings per month.
The council's the highest paid in Sullivan County, and among the highest paid for towns of its size statewide.
Councilman Lane Lovelace had suggested each donate $400 back. However, Nielson wouldn't hear it.
"I won't work for $140 a month (after taxes)" Nielson said. "I wouldn't sit here for $140 a month."
Riggleman, as an elected official, was the last town employee considered in the budget review and took the least loss in Wednesday's cuts.
Riggleman only lost the $1,000 Health Savings Plan allowance the town provided many employees. That won't take effect until January 2013.
Town employees will also begin keeping gas logs -- something Town Marshal Dave Heaton said he has kept and submitted since January -- because Dugger's spent $12,000 so far this year on fuel costs.
"Let's just let people know that we shouldn't cruise town all day," Riggleman said.
The town will completely discontinue employee eligibility in the Public Employees Retirement Fund (PERF) for at least the time being.
Gene Talpas, who'd asked for a pay increase during the last regular town council session, was sanguine about the pay cuts.
"If it's got to be done, it's got to be done," he said.
Town Marshal David Heaton will receive a 15 percent pay cut, reducing his monthly salary by $352. Heaton was paid biweekly $1,174 prior to the cuts. Heaton also loses his PERF, the $1,000 which the town contributed to his Health Savings Plan and a $300 uniform allowance. He was among the hardest hit by the cuts.
"I'm not saying I disagree with what you did," Heaton told the town council. "But I'm sitting here with certifications now, making less than the man down the row from me. Nothing against him, but you think about that."
Riggleman suggested while the cuts struck everyone, Heaton could take comfort.
"Your job is safe," she said. "You are not being laid off."
Heaton, however, questioned whether the town council could cut salaries the way they did, given that the salaries were set by the state Board of Accounts during budget hearings.
The lost funds from the health savings plan mean Heaton and other town employees must now come up with $1,500 out of pocket for uninsured expenses.
Heaton, whose job was threatened last January by the board in a firing attempt, has filed a tort claim and potential lawsuit against Dugger, the town council and Pirtle.
His attorney John Bodine may appear at next Monday's Town Council meeting to discuss the pending lawsuits in light of the perks and pay cut.
Carolyn Settles, the town's assistant water clerk, also took a pay cut and is the second town employee with a potential pending tort claim against the town council. She will see her hourly pay reduced from $11.55 to $9.82 for 16 hours a week.
Town Sewer and Water Superintendent Lonnie Boyd saw his pay drop two dollars per hour. He was paid $16.35 prior to the changes, and now will earn $14.35. He'll also add new duties to his position, reading meters and doing more paperwork.
Nielson suggested, in cutting Boyd's hourly pay "anyone who lives in this town and makes $14 an hour ought to jump for joy."
Boyd declined comment on whether he'd stay in his job, though others speculated at least one resignation may result from the pay cuts.