City budget will leave a $1M surplus

COVINGTON -- Like other local governments across the country, the city of Covington has experienced a decline in property tax revenues and a shrinking budget; but unlike some of its counterparts, Covington is weathering the economic storm.

The City Council is poised to approve the 2010-2011 budget Monday night. As proposed, the budget includes $119,210,792 in revenues and expenditures of $118,165,606, leaving a surplus of more than $1 million, about double what it was two years ago. The millage rate is proposed to remain at 8.2 mills.

"We've been very frugal and downsized during these tough economic times," said Mayor Kim Carter of the city's good financial standing.

Carter noted that Covington is fortunate to be a provider of public utility services that bring in additional revenue and help "spread the deficit around."

The city's budget has declined by about $15 million in the last two years. Property tax collections, at $4,978,909, have decreased by more than $1 million from last year.

"As a basis of comparison, it costs $11.8 million to pay for public safety alone. Covington offers an extremely good value in relation to the services received by its residents and business citizens," Carter said.

The budget includes nearly $10 million in capital outlay projects, though all may not be completed, said City Manager Steve Horton. Included is about $3.5 million for improvements and expansion of the airport, some of which is contingent upon the city receiving a grant; about $3 million in the gas and electric department that may be contingent upon new development; and water and sewer upgrades and new installations totaling about $1 million.

"We're really down on projects compared to what we would have been two years ago," Horton said. "There are not a lot of things happening as far as new development. We would have a lot more going on if some of the projects proposed two years ago were still on the books."

The city has reduced its staff by about 50 since 2007, according to Horton. In addition to the job reductions due to the sale of the cable television system, most of the reduction in force has been achieved through attrition -- there have been no layoffs or furloughs, said Carter. The city is also offering an early retirement incentive package that could save as much as $600,000 during the next five years.

"To say the city of Covington hasn't had to do anything is not a fair statement," Horton said. "But right now, this year, it's a pretty good picture. What it is next year is what we worry about. We're always in process mode and planning mode."