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Porterdale balances '09 budget

PORTERDALE - The city will achieve a balanced budget for 2009, if everything goes as planned, but City Manager Tom Fox cautioned City Council members that 2010 could be a different story if the economy doesn't improve.

Fox told the council at its Jan. 13 work session that a transfer of dollars from the Water and Sewer fund, combined with previous cost-cutting measures, will balance the proposed 2009 budget. However, Fox said the transfer, which will come from the sale of the city's reserve sewage treatment capacity to the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority, is a one-time opportunity that will not be available to the town in 2010.

A draft of the proposed 2009 budget shows Porterdale anticipating approximately $900,000 in general fund revenues and $1.1 million in expenditures. A transfer from the Water and Sewer fund of $175,605 brings the budget into balance.

Fox also told the council that the city will end 2008 in the black, despite earlier concerns to the contrary. Fox said an accounting miscue in which the entire cost of three Police Department patrol cars purchased in 2008 was expensed that year led to the misunderstanding. Instead, Fox said, the payments will be made over a period of years.

"We're in better shape than we thought," he said.

Fox has implemented a number of cost-cutting measures to help bring the 2009 budget in line, including keeping a public works position open, eliminating a crew leader position in public works and eliminating temporary help at City Hall.

Fox told council members that the money transferred to the general fund to balance the budget equals five full-time positions on the city payroll.

The only department in city government that has not seen personnel cuts is the Porterdale Police Department.

"There has been a lot of emphasis on public safety, and it's tough because they really are the only department left that we could make cuts in," Fox said last week in an interview.

Fox said the city is fortunate to be able to offer a 24-7 police department to the residents.

"What the citizens are paying for with their tax dollars is that added police protection - faster response times and more patrol coverage," Fox said.

However, Fox noted that the City Council may have some tough decisions to make in the coming months.

"Cities all across Georgia and the nation, they are all facing cutbacks in some area," Fox said. "It really boils down to the local priorities and control. In our case, we have put public safety at the top of the list, and we have put a lot of resources into public safety. It is going to be a matter of the council making some tough decisions to keep that level the same in the future, assuming the economy doesn't improve."

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