The Wharves Board of Trustees, which governs the Port of Galveston, Monday approved a 2017 fiscal budget after almost two hours of sometimes heated discussion.

Trustees met to approve a budget in November, but took no action and directed port staff to try to cut expenses.

“This is not what I had in mind when we asked to cut $100,000 from the budget,” Trustee Elizabeth Beeton said at the start of budget discussions.

Port staff proposed not filling three staff positions — that of port director, director of administration and an engineering position — for the first quarter of the fiscal year as a way of cutting the proposed amount from the budget.

Staff also added that an extra $2.1 million was anticipated in cruise-related revenues with another $1.85 million of that taken up in other expenses for a total change of $651,000 in revenues from the November budget proposal.

“Rather than identify savings, we are looking at increases in revenue,” Port Director Michael Mierzwa said. “These are still conservative projections, however.”

Beeton forced the issue.

“The board might have agreed with your projections, but we did direct you to find $100,000 to cut from the budget,” she said. “The staff did not do that. Now we are being asked to come up with things to cut on the fly.”

“I want a chance to look at an inventory,” Trustee Ted O’Rourke said. “I want to hold the line and live on what we did last year. I’m getting upset — I didn’t get to see an inventory before we’re being asked to do the budget.”

Port officials in the 2016 budget projected about $488,000 in revenue left after expenses, not counting income from grants. The actual number will about $1.2 million before grants, officials said Monday.

Port officials projected about $36 million in revenues for the next fiscal year, which begins Jan. 1, and projected 2017 expenses to be about $26 million before depreciation, Mierzwa said.

“We need to approve a budget today,” Trustee and Mayor Jim Yarbrough said. “We can go back and amend things later, if we have to, but we’ve got to have a budget.”

With discussions still at an impasse and the need for a budget, the two sides eventually identified $50,000 for contract labor and $49,000 for new laptops and upgrades to work stations as items that could be removed from the proposed budget.

To get over the $100,000 mark, a ship registry book that would have cost $4,000 was also removed from the budget after O’Rourke protested against it.

“You can look up any ship online,” O’Rourke said. “You don’t need a book to tell you the dimensions and the draft.”

After agreeing to those cuts, the trustees approved a budget, with the caveat that proposed raises could not actually be approved until a later finance meeting is held.

“We’ll freeze the raises until a new port director gets in,” Yarbrough said. “The money is in the budget for them, but won’t be distributed until we meet.”

In October, trustees unanimously voted to give the port’s 90 employees a one-time pay bump, a total of about $112,500, rather than offer salary increases.

Mierzwa proposed increasing employee salaries by a certain percentage, depending on base pay. The increase would’ve cost about $27,000 for the remaining fiscal year ending Dec. 31. Wharves board trustees had already approved about $115,000 for pay increases for the current fiscal year, but they had not yet approved salary adjustments.

Beeton then said budgeted salary increases should be given to employees at the beginning of the fiscal year.

Contact reporter Matthew deGrood at 409-683-5230 or matthew.degrood@galvnews.com

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