• 79°

City, county budget writers sharpen pencils

City and county budget writers have begun work on new yearspending plans, but they say a number of decisions remain to bemade.

“It’s going good,” said City Clerk Iris Rudman about budgetprogress. “Most of our department heads have turned in theirrequests for the next year.”

Rudman said the requests are under review and will be discussedwith the mayor and board of aldermen prior to the start of the newfiscal year on Oct. 1. Officials are expected to approve a budgetby Sept. 15.

“We want to stay within the budget,” Rudman said. “If we go upon something, we need to go down somewhere else.”

With months of sluggish sales tax revenue, Rudman is predictingno increase in that area. A recent budget revision for the currentyear pushed sales tax revenue expectations down by $14,000.

“It’s going to be a little bit less next year,” said Rudman,adding that the city would still be in good shape if collectionsstay over $300,000 per month.

Aside from sales tax, Rudman indicated that revenue levelsshould be about the same next year. That would impact next year’sspending plans.

“It can’t be very much different than what we’re doing this yearbecause the revenue’s not there,” Rudman said.

Funds for some pending city projects have not been put into thebudget. Even if those projects involve federal funds or grants,revenue would have to be available to pay the bills before the citygets reimbursed.

“You have to pay as construction is done,” Rudman said.

Mayor Bill Godbold last week encouraged budget writers to factorin pay raises for city employees in the early stage of budget work.Last year, raises were able to be given only after the start of thefiscal year.

“We had the devil last year waiting to put it in,” Godbold said.”We can always take it out and if we do, we can use (the money)somewhere else.”

Rudman said salary raises would likely be calculated at 5percent to start and could be lowered to 2 or 3 percent when otherbudget decisions are made.

In the county, Administrator David Fields reported good news onthe current year budget and with plans for next year.

“We’ve started getting some items together,” Fields said.

Fields said some department requests have come in and severalbudget items could be discussed at the supervisors’ meeting on July21. Like the city, he did not see any major budget changes nextyear.

“It’s going to hold pretty much where we were this year,” Fieldssaid.

Fields said the biggest budget question remains the industrialpark.

Like the city, supervisors have been asked to pursue a $2 to$2.2 million bond issue to purchase land and develop the park. If abond issue approved, however, Fields said bond repayment may notbegin until the 2005 budget year.

“If it doesn’t happen soon, it won’t affect next year’s budget,”Fields said.

A decision for the county to participate in a self-insuredhealth insurance program several years ago is paying off, Fieldssaid. He said claims were down this year, and he was looking abouta 3 percent decrease.

Fields said that was a departure from earlier times.

“That’s one of those things that hit us pretty hard,” Fieldssaid.

Fields said the county’s solid waste revenue was in good shape.He anticipated no increase the county’s $9 a month fee.

Supervisors will likely approve the new year budget in Septemberfollowing a public hearing. Fields said the property tax levy,expressed as a millage rate, will be set after budget decisions aremade.

“We won’t know what the millage rate will be until we get thatdone and determine what the assessed values are this year,” Fieldssaid.