City manager: ‘No tax increase’ was budget goal

Published 6:42 pm Tuesday, May 5, 2009

City Council members Monday got their first in-depth look at a no-frills fiscal 2010 budget that would maintain spending cuts made by the council last fall and hold the line on property taxes.

City Manager June Fleming, who prepared the draft budget in cooperation with staff members, said she attempted to heed the “messages” sent by the council last fall when it unanimously voted to cut about $400,000 in spending and seven jobs from the fiscal 2009 budget rather than raise property taxes.

“Our ultimate goal as a staff was to avoid a tax increase,” Fleming said at the first of a series of work sessions the council will hold before adopting a budget next month. “That goal has been accomplished. Unfortunately, the results are reductions and elimination of some city services.”

The council will resume its look at the budget during a second work session at 6:30 p.m. today at City Hall.

No employees would be laid off as a result of Fleming’s proposed budget, but a vacant position in the Community Development Department would be eliminated. City employees would not receive a raise in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

“We do not feel like we have done any irreparable harm to the city, nor have we sacrificed public safety,” Fleming said.

Among the reductions cited by Fleming:

* Elimination of City Clips, a newsletter that is inserted in utility bills each month. The same information would be made available online and through other media, Fleming said.

* No holiday bonuses for employees

* “Greatly reduced” overtime pay, which will be accomplished by asking event sponsors to help foot the bill for set-up and crowd-control services by city employees and police officers

* Cancellation of the city’s annual employee picnic and holiday luncheon. “We’re going to have to learn another way to say thank you,” Fleming said.

* Elimination of all but essential travel expenses for staff members

The budget proposes total operating spending of $21.95 million, or nearly $500,000 more than the current budget year. The increase is entirely the result of increased tipping fees by the Southeastern Public Service Authority. The increased cost of trash disposal will be passed along to residents on their monthly garbage bills.

City Finance Director Brian Stump recommended that garbage be treated on financial statements going forward as an “enterprise fund,” akin to the way electricity, water and sewer currently are handled.

The proposed budget would add $93,000 to the city’s reserve funds.

The budget contains no money for additional police officers, as requested by Chief Phil Hardison, though the city has applied for federal grants that would fund salaries and equipment for up to 10 new officers.