City sees red ink for next budget year

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Two proposals studied

By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

It doesn’t matter how they slice it, the Chiefland City Commission is facing a budget for next year that is bleeding red ink.

The commission considered two budget proposals prepared by its staff during a workshop on Monday — one with a 3 percent pay raise for non-management employees and one with nothing.

The proposal without the pay increase, the first made by the staff, also would not include bonuses, no capital equipment purchases except for matching grants for the fire department, would only fund uniforms for the police and fire departments and makes cuts of $228,566.59, but the general fund budget will be over $664,880.55.

But Mayor Teal Pomeroy was not satisfied, asked for another proposal, the one with the pay increase and further reductions in department spending.

The proposal with the pay increase would also include employee bonuses, capital equipment funds, funds for employee uniforms and a general reduction in spending. The general fund budget would be over by $280,576.85 and the total budget is projected to go in the red by $400,626.95. The biggest cut in the proposal came in the police department where lower gas prices are a large part of a $76,000 reduction.

The cause of the problem is not spending as much as the economy. City revenues are expected to drop a total of $298,096.89 with the drops coming from:

$22,351 in ad valorem revenues utilizing the current 4.75 millage rate on lower property values and no new construction in the city;

$11,294 in discretionary sales tax;

$2,797 in local option gas tax;

$8,000 in rolloff fees from Waste Pro, the city’s garbage franchise;

$6,000 in occupational license fees;

$138,000 in building permits, mainly due to the delay in construction of the Tri-County Hospital;

$3,500 in site plan review fees, due to lack of construction;

$4,000 in code enforcement;

$1,000 in fire plan review fees, due to lack of construction;

$200 in mobile home licenses;

$6,037 in local government 1/2-cent sales tax;

$1,300 in state gas tax refund;

$1,500 in zoning fees;

$400 for copying services;

$444 in election qualifying fees;

$1,000 in Usher Center flat fees;

$100 in dog pound fees;

$15,000 in interest income;

$65,500 in various impact fees;

$5,000 in other revenue;

$7,000 in cost recovery fees for the police department.

While little was said by the staff on the options, the documents presented to the commission said, “Options to consider may involve a combination transfer in of monies from fund balance reserves, increase in millage or increase in some general fund fees.

“A millage increase to 4.82 mills, would present a balanced budget.”

Also adding to the city’s woes is that the current budget is expected to be over what was approved last fall, meaning there is no contingency fund or fund balance to use to help with the coming year’s budget.

The staff is not recommending increases in water or sewer rates for the upcoming year, but it was placed on the table for commissioners to consider studying the rates in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2010.

The city has the option of considering an increase in the millage but must set the top rate by Aug. 4 to send the information to the state Department of Revenue.

One sticky item in the budget is the fire department, which went to 24 hour a day coverage this year and is seeking $534,902.13. That would be an increase from the current year’s budget of $419,272.29.

Chief John Ward is asking for a $6,500 increase in overtime funds.

He also wants to spend $65,031.45 in capital equipment purchases, up from this year’s $50,270.39. and to hold onto $75,720 in capital rollover funds for a new truck. Ward is also asking to set aside $27,332 for a future truck purchase for the Fowlers Bluff Volunteer Fire Department.

The city has a contract with Fowlers Bluff and Levy County to provide coverage in those areas. The county contributes $193,560 to the city for coverage of the county areas and another $37,440 for coverage in the Fowlers Bluff area.

Ward told the commission he is asking the county for $199,368 in the coming year and defended the amount the county pays for the calls his department covers saying it was adequate.

Pomeroy questioned whether the city had a contract with Fowlers Bluff or the county, but Ward said the Fowlers Bluff contract is in force, while the county contract has lapsed.

“We have no contract with Levy County to my knowledge,” Pomeroy said.

“Our contract expired unbeknownst to the county attorney or me,” Ward said.

“But the county has worked in good faith by giving us payments and the city has worked in good faith by continuing to give service.”

“They have continued to give us a 3 percent increase every year,” Commissioner Theresa Barron said.

Pomeroy said he was concerned that the city has also been forced to take over first responder duties for Emergency Medical Service calls because the county has taken one of its two ambulances out of the city. “We’re backing up the ambulances,” he said. “Not only are we paying an ambulance tax but we’re backing up the ambulance.”

“That is a city call,” Ward replied. “I see it as we’re providing a needed service to our citizens.”

“We do make more calls,” Pomeroy complained. “That is something they (the county) are going to have to deal with in the budget.”

Pomeroy said,”We’re trying to balance the budget and it’s not possible without cutting the fire department. We have cut and cut … this commission can choose to cut the budget or spend like they do in Washington, D.C.”

Pomeroy said every department cut their budget by 3 percent and the police chief even cut his budget by $76,000, but Ward was still pushing the increase.

“I’m in favor of passing a balanced budget. Maybe our solution is in raising the millage,” Pomeroy finally said.