MILLEDGEVILLE — City manager Barry Jarrett presented Milledgeville City Council members with an unbalanced budget last week. Wednesday’s city work session ended with an agreeable balanced document totaling $12.5 million.
The City of Milledgeville chose to redirect just more than $3 million from the Water and Sewer and Solid Waste funds to address the budgeted difference in general fund revenues and expenditures for the coming fiscal year.
Jarrett reminded city officials that income has dropped in several areas. The ever-fruitful water fund can’t carry the city forever, according to the city manager.
“We are able to move those funds, and everything is OK doing that but I want y’all to know that the water fund is decreasing. As time passes, it’s going to be more difficult,” Jarrett said Wednesday.
This isn’t a foreign city move considering the past profits of water, sewer and solid waste operations. Jarrett said the general fund revenue has probably never been enough to handle expenditures.
“We’ve always supported that by coming back from the water fund,” he said.
Considering that the county no longer uses city water and the Central State Hospital water usage will most likely drop by early 2014 with the Craig Center closing, the city manager urged the alderman to adjust the status quo by finding other cost cutting or revenue raising methods.
“You’ve got to do something to correct it. I’d like to see us operate the way we’ve been operating but be very conscious to start to correct the problems we have in that we overspend in the general fund,” Jarrett said.
To attain the same budget balancing effect of the water and sewer transfer, the city needed to slice every department’s budget by 10 percent.
City Finance Officer Brenda Josey said several options beyond the fund redirection were considered during the budget process.
“We’ve looked at every line item that we can hope to cut without having to cut the level of service we provide to our citizens,” she said.
Cutting agency or department expenditures proves scary.
“You are limited to what you can use as a revenue source. You’re always going to be cutting expenditures,” Mayor Richard Bentley said. “There are some areas we need to be careful about what we cut. Those entities are primarily job creators.”
Councilman Steve Chambers, District 6, spoke of the difficult decisions looming.
“There needs to be a conscious effort to do some weaning,” Chambers said during the work session. “I just don’t know where.”
As the budget currently stands, the city decided against increased agency requests totaling $75,000. Monies funding the Mary Vinson Library, Communities In Schools of Milledgeville/Baldwin County, the Boys & Girls Club, Allied Arts, Georgia’s Old Capital Museum, the Oconee River Greenway, the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Development Authority and the Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority stayed the same.
A 3 percent employee salary increase factors into the 2013/2014 budget as well.
Josey said Wednesday a 10 percent increase in employee health insurance was already budgeted. Future alterations to City of Milledgeville’s insurance coverage could provide up to $175,000 more to the general fund if needed.
Right now, federal health care regulations provide another mystery.
“If I knew what would happen Jan. 1 when the new health care insurance regulations go into effect, I’d probably be the richest woman in the country,” Josey said. “Nobody knows. The State of Georgia hasn’t even gotten their insurance exchange set up yet.”
As the City of Milledgeville heads into future planning, Jarrett suggested evaluating services provided and the charges for those services.
Collecting more from police revenue generators and even the alcohol fees might suit the city’s taste down the road.
Though raising the millage rate is never a popular choice, the elephant peeked into Wednesday discussion.
“At some point in time we are going to have to look at millage rate. We aren’t going to see an increase in property value,” Chambers said.
A one-mill increase equates to roughly $360,000. Jarrett wanted to keep millage rate talk out of the discussion, considering it a last resort.
Josey said the current budget timing isn’t right.
“We haven’t entertained a millage rate increase because this isn’t the year to do it,” the city finance officer said.
Tuesday’s 6:30 p.m. regular City Council meeting includes the first reading and public hearing of the proposed balanced budget. Council has two weeks to tidy up before the planned adoption night two weeks later.
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