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Porterdale cuts budget with layoffs

PORTERDALE - Two employees have been laid off by the city in an effort to make up an approximate $200,000 budget shortfall for the year.

City Manager Tom Fox said the city's public works crew leader and code enforcement officer positions were affected by the layoff. In addition, Fox said employees are being asked to take a 20 percent cut in either hours or payroll. Workers at City Hall and public works have already opted to reduce their hours from 40 per week to 32, he said.

Fox said cuts will also be made at the city's Police Department, although whether those cuts will be in hours or in pay rate remains to be determined. The Police Department employs six officers and Chief Wayne Digby. Fox said determining how the cuts will be made is more complicated for the Police Department "because we want to make sure we can still deliver appropriate police coverage."

Some City Council members had balked at making cuts in the Police Department due to public safety concerns. However, after a closed session that lasted more than an hour at Monday night's City Council meeting, Fox said the Police Department would be affected as well.

Other cost-cutting methods implemented by Fox this week include requiring city employees to pay 40 percent of their health care insurance premiums. In the past, employees paid $10 per week of the monthly $299-per-employee premium; employees will now be asked to pay about $120 per month of the premium amount.

In addition, Fox said the city has suspended its cleaning contract for City Hall and the Police Department headquarters, eliminated its pest control service and eliminated city-paid cell phones for city employees and City Council members, except for those that would be needed in emergency situations. Fox said the city also suspended the program allowing police officers to take home their city-owned vehicles, with a couple of possible exceptions, including the canine officer.

"We're hoping these will be temporary decisions," Fox said Wednesday. "We are still looking at some other options to bring in more money other than raising taxes."

Fox said these budget changes will put the city in a better financial position for the coming 2009 budget year. The cost-cutting measures will amount to a total of about $230,000 in savings over a year's time, Fox said, but will save the city only about $57,500 through the end of this year.

Porterdale's budget woes stem from decreased revenues from sewer tap and building permit fees and an increase in expenses, including fuel and personnel costs.

Porterdale's fiscal 2008 budget totals $1.029 million in revenue, including transfers from the sanitation and water and sewer funds. The $200,000 deficit is made up of about $188,000 in budgeted revenues and an increase in expenses of about $12,000.

Council members discussed increasing property taxes Monday night as a method of generating additional revenue, although no decision was reached. Porterdale's current millage rate is 8.776, which Councilwoman Linda Finger said is already the highest rate in the county.

Councilman Robert Foxworth said he believes city property owners would be willing to pay a little more in property taxes to keep police services intact.

"I'm not in favor of raising taxes, but if we raised them 1 mill, some homeowners would end up paying $10 more for one year. I'd have to probably pay $40 more for one year," Foxworth said.

Fox said Wednesday that while council members aren't in favor of a tax increase, the possibility still exists.

"There's always a possibility that that could happen because I know that there is some concern about cutting services, especially in the Police Department," Fox said.

Council members also discussed the possibility of property revaluations to ensure that Porterdale's tax values are in line with fair market values.

Councilwoman Arline Chapman said she believes that some property assessments in Porterdale are below fair market value.

Fox said Wednesday he is hoping to have a discussion with Newton County Tax Commissioner Barbara Dingler regarding Porterdale's valuations. He said Porterdale's 2008 net tax digest is $2.6 million, compared to the 2007 net digest of $2.8 million, a $2 million decrease.

Alice Queen can be reached at alice.queen@rockdalecitizen.com.