Early City Council members came close to delaying approval of a proposed budget for the 2008-2009 fiscal year, but after some discussion about police salaries they decided by a 4-1 margin to adopt it during a noon Monday meeting.

A public hearing on the budget, which totals approximately $4.5 million, City Administrator Ken Thomas said, is scheduled for Sept. 9.

Councilman Benny Allcorn cast the negative vote. He had earlier voiced concerns that the budgeting process got a late start, leaving little time to study it. Thomas said the council lost at least two weeks because of resignations from the council.

Police Chief David Mercer spoke to the council before its vote about the possibility of adding $300 a month to the salaries of each police officer. He said the move would cost about $28,000 for the coming year.

“I know money’s tight, but both the Brownwood Police and sheriff’s department are getting raises, and each department is three or more people short,” Mercer said. “They are heavily recruiting our guys. None of them wants to leave, but sometimes money talks.”

The police chief pointed to intensive training the city has provided for its officers recently, and said that represents “an investment we have made in those guys.”

Mercer said the additional money, on top of a 4 percent raise in the budget, would keep Early’s salaries “a little under” the sheriff’s department pay, at about the same difference that it is now.

“We’ve tried over the past two or three years to make our police department as modern as we possibly can,” Thomas said. “That’s why it’s been difficult this year. But when you have a lot of other cities nearby, it’s difficult to be able to compete with them.”

Council members said one place they might look for funds to add to police salaries would be the city’s cash balance, which stands at $77,600. But that cushion has already dropped to the lowest it’s been in several years.

“It’s usually over $100,000,” Mayor Bob Mangrum said.

After flirting with the possibility of delaying approval of a budget until additional study could be made, council members decided to ask Thomas and Mercer to examine the department’s budget to see what items could be eliminated or deferred to free up additional funds for salaries.

Thomas said it would serve the city well to be able to retain its officers.

“The city spends thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars in training and then they take that training and shop it around for the highest dollar,” Thomas said. The possibility of adopting a policy linking training to an obligation to serve the city was mentioned.

“Much of the training was catching up on mandated schools,” Mercer said. “Other training was mandated by me, and some of it was mandated by the state.”

“I think we should work within this budget and keep the bottom line,” councilman B.J. McCullough said.

“It will be a matter of moving some money within the department,” Mangrum said.