Mayor says it’s time to focus on the basics, will ask council to consider a SPLOST
Mayor Skip Henderson’s proposed 2020 budget includes a pay raise for city employees, money to address blight, and other priorities the first-term mayor has talked about in recent months, including his State of the City presentation in March.
Henderson presented his recommended budget to council during a regular council meeting Tuesday.
The total balanced budget recommended is $282,597,030, which is a 2.64 percent increase over the 2019 adopted budget of $275,340,292.
The proposed budget consists of $152.8 million in General Fund revenue, which includes $34.8 million in Local Option Sales Tax funds, $34.8 million in Other Local Option Sales Tax funds and $94 million in all other operating fund revenues.
The city is projecting a 2 percent increase in the 2020 tax digest (the assessed value of all taxable property in the county) Henderson said, and the budget reflects $2,010,000 in new General Funds revenue.
Henderson also said he did not use fund balance to balance the budget, and the budget does not anticipate a change in the millage rate.
The proposed budget also keeps the operating fund above the 60 day minimum, the point at which the city’s bond rating is at risk, with around 69 days in the fund at the end of 2020.
City employee raises
The proposed budget includes a 1 percent raise for all full-time city employees hired on or before June 30, 2018 as well as a 1 percent cost of living increase (COLA) for all employees. Both of those raises will go into effect in January 2020, if the budget is approved.
The budgeted healthcare cost is $5,825 per position, which Henderson called a “very, very minute increase” over last year’s expense.
“This year will be the third consecutive year in which employees will experience no premium increases if they participate in the wellness program,” Henderson said in his budget letter.
Another big change includes a $1 million allocation for demolitions of blighted properties. The budget allocated to the City Building Inspections and Code Enforcement department for 2019 is $56,000, with an average cost of $8,000 for each demolition.
Henderson said the large increase in funding will “rid some of the neighborhoods from having to look at these burned out, skeletal remains of trailer parks and also take down some of the homes that have been marked for demolition that we just never had the funding to do.”
The funding will be a one-time expense, Henderson said.
Garbage fee and landfill
Henderson also announced there is no garbage fee increase recommended for 2020, despite a need for equipment for the city’s Integrated Waste System.
“The reason for that is, adding 50 cents and being able to purchase maybe one garbage truck didn’t make sense when we’re just about to embark on a rate structure study,” he said.
Also budgeted is $300,000 to re-design and change the side slopes at Pine Grove Landfill to create more useable space and add an additional 25 years of life to the landfill.
“We were at a point where we were just about to have to close two cells, that was going to cost about $10 million, and it hadn’t been done in about three years,” Henderson said. “(The redesign) is going to save us a bunch of money by putting off and giving us more time to be able to prepare for those post-closure expenses.”
The OLOST (Other Local Option Sales Tax) budget is projected to be $34.8 million in 2020, with $24.4 million going to public safety and $10.4 million to infrastructure.
According to Henderson’s budget letter, out of the OLOST funds allocated to public safety, the majority is already appropriated for ongoing commitments, whether that be for personnel expenses, debt service or cost allocations. The remaining funds will be appropriated for the pay raise and COLA for OLOST positions, for the replacement of the Wired Ethernet to Wireless Microwave System and for additional capital outlay for the public safety departments and offices.
The additional capital outlay will include the lease of 25 vehicles for the police department, 10 for the sheriff’s office and one for the marshal’s office, among other purchases.
A series of budget work sessions and public hearings will be held by council in May and June before a final budget is adopted, which must be done before July 1.
The recommended budget book can be viewed on the city’s website.