Social Circle tightens its belt

SOCIAL CIRCLE -- The city is preparing for another year of declining revenue and budget cuts, as well as another round of water and sewer rate hikes.

City Manager Doug White presented on Tuesday the proposed 2010-11 budget to the City Council, which reflects an 18 percent decrease over the previous year's budget.

"This shows the impact of the economy," he said. "This shows a trend of what's going on locally, and we're not unique."

White referenced the two previous years' budgets that showed a consistent decline in tax revenue to the city. In 2008-09, $2.75 million was collected in taxes; $2.6 million in 2009-10; and this year's projections show $2.44 million.

"And that is with the same millage rate the whole time," White said.

He said the decrease is an illustration of the "impact of property values declining in the city," along with a similar drop in collection of other fees.

"We have a significant decrease in revenue available to do our work with," White said.

Only a few areas are slated for a budget increase. In particular, about $20,000 more is allocated to health and welfare to reflect a shift in reimbursements from the Georgia Department of Transportation for city bus drivers' salaries and more than $21,000 additional is slated for Better Hometown.

White said this "fairly significant increase is due to increased activity of the director (Mike Miller)." He said he also plans to hand Miller some additional responsibilities over the next year.

Public safety and public works were two areas that have heavy decreases in the proposed budget. The public safety budget went from $1.62 million in 2009-10 to $1.41 million for the upcoming fiscal year budget, reflecting a 13 percent decrease. About $10,000 was taken from the public works budget, which is projected to operate with $434,215 this upcoming year as compared to $444,326 last year.

White explained these reductions were made largely to shift these dollars to the gas budget in the event a major gas leak should occur. Having those funds available in the gas budget will help keep that budget in line should those workers be called on for an emergency.

At the same time, White said, Public Safety Director Tom Fox is looking into utilizing part-time police officers, much like the fire department does already, in order to fill vacancies and minimize overtime and other benefits of full-time staff.

City utilities will also take a hit in the proposed 2010-11 budget. Anticipated gas revenue is down more than $1 million from last year -- $4.3 million in 2009-10 versus $3.2 million projected in 2010-11.

"To look at this, you'd think we lost some major gas customers, but we haven't," White said. "This decrease is due to a drop in price of gas."

Water and sewer customers, however, can expect another rate increase this year, White said. Even with anticipated revenue due to the rate increase, the 2010-11 budget is down 6 percent over the previous year's.

White said the city increased water and sewer rates in 2009 by 40 percent to balance a budget that was 8 percent lower than in 2008-09. He said the city is facing the prospect of raising rates by 40 percent again this year, but due to savings realized from refinancing bond debt, the rate hike shouldn't be that high.

Instead, the city is contemplating raising water rates by 25 percent and increasing sewer rates by 15 percent. White said the City Council will meet in the next couple of weeks to structure the rate increases.

Tuesday's presentation was the only public hearing to be held on the 2010-11 budget.

The council will hold the second reading and vote on adoption during its next monthly meeting. The council agreed to change its next scheduled meeting to July 22 due to the primary election that will be held July 20.