Monday night’s budget hearing ended with Fort Smith directors asking the city administrator to look for a way to give city employees raises in 2017.

Raises for city employees were not included in the proposed 2017 budget, which the board discussed over the course of three hearings and will approve Dec. 20. More than $460,000 is needed to give city employees a 1 percent raise for cost of living.

“So Carl (Geffken, city administrator)’s task is to see if we can come up with $275,000 (out of the general fund), $33,000 out of street fund, $122,000 out of water and sewer and $36,000 out of sanitation,” Mayor Sandy Sanders said at the hearing after the board’s discussion.

The consensus among the board members was not whether they wanted to raise salaries, but rather, how they would pull it off financially.

“I think a 1 percent is a slap in the face to our employees,” Ward 2 Director Andre Good said. “I wish we could do more than 1 percent, but the fact of the matter is we’re going to have to look for every way possible to save money.”

The budget is balanced with a $13,000 surplus, Geffken said.

Besides raising revenue, the ways to cut spending are to reduce staff, reduce overtime, furlough employees or restrict the city’s education reimbursement policy, which pays for employees’ educational tuition, at-large board member Tracy Pennartz said.

“I think you’ll see a mass exodus of employees if that happens,” Ward 4 Director George Catsavis said in regards to the education reimbursement policy.

“Either you have to cut staff or you have to cut overtime,” Ward 1 Director Keith Lau said.

Good, speaking of the finance department’s proposed reorganization that involves hiring new people, posed the question of whether people in the department could be trained to do some of those specialized tasks.

“We don’t want to raise fees, and we want to cut expenses to the point of giving our employees a cost of living increase,” Lau said.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors will approve its 2017 budget for city departments Dec. 20 at its regular meeting.

There is not enough time to find ways to cut expenses to give the pay raises before Dec. 20, Geffken said. If he is able to find ways to cut expenses, that will be presented to the board after the new year.