City holding hearing on new budget

Published 8:00 pm Sunday, August 26, 2012

Members of the public may voice their opinion on the city’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year at a public hearing scheduled for Tuesday.

     The public hearing will be at 5:30 p.m. in the city boardroom in the Lincoln County-Brookhaven Government Complex.

     The biggest change the new budget brings for city residents is a fee hike for utilities. It calls for an increase of 50 cents each to water, sewer and garbage disposal.

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     That’s a total increase of $1.50 in total increase for city utilities and will push the minimum charge up from $40.85 to $42.35.

     If approved, the fee increases will become active when the fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

     The Water and Sewer and Solid Waste departments must operate out of the fees they generate. General budget funds can’t be used to make up for a shortfall in fee funds.

     The 2012-13 budget proposed by aldermen projects nearly $12.5 million in revenue and about $13.5 million in expenditures. That means a projected deficit of $1.09 million.

     However, officials say a projected deficit is no cause for concern. The city is required to pass a balanced budget, so when approved, the city’s surplus funds will be used to zero out any deficit, said City Clerk Mike Jinks.

     However, officials don’t actually believe the surplus funds will be needed. Jinks has assured aldermen that, historically, actual expenditures have come in far less than projected costs.

     The 2011-12 budget showed a deficit before the use of reserve funds. But so far, with only about a month left in that fiscal year, the city is running a surplus rather than a deficit without touching a penny of reserves.

     Mayor Les Bumgarner and aldermen have praised the efforts of department heads to keep costs down.

     Changes to the budget as compared to the current budget include a 2 percent raise for all city employees, including aldermen. The latter provision has garnered at least some opposition, but the aldermen raises seem likely to pass.

     Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell has argued that any raises should be across the board so that the aldermen pay scale doesn’t fall out of sync with other salary levels.

     Maxwell did leave open the possibility that he’d support no raises this year, but Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron said city employees expect the raises.

     There are no increases in employee insurance cost, but the city’s retirement match for public employees did move up.

     Other changes includes $18,000 placed into the budget to cover landscaping costs at Exit 40 on Interstate 55, $15,000 for signs at Rosehill Cemetery and $25,000 earmarked for next year’s municipal elections.