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Aldermen pass ‘frugal’ budget

DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Alderman Terry Bates listens to a proposal to raise water bill costs during Tuesday's board of aldermen meeting. City officials went on to approve a 50-cent water bill increase and passed the 2013-2014 budget last night.

DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Alderman Terry Bates listens to a proposal to raise water bill costs during Tuesday’s board of aldermen meeting. City officials went on to approve a 50-cent water bill increase and passed the 2013-2014 budget last night.

Some programs and positions have been eliminated in the new budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, while early completion of a FEMA shelter and a freeze on Brookhaven’s city employee salaries equals significant cuts in total expenditures from last year.

Projected revenue and expenditures for the 2013-2014 budget come to $12,796,800, a significant reduction from the $13.5 million budget of the previous year.

“We are in a very good position with the budget,” said City Clerk Mike Jinks regarding the spending plan approved by aldermen Tuesday night.

“Overall, I think it’s a conservative and realistic budget,” Ward Four Alderman Shirley Estes said. “I am very comfortable with where we stand.”

The 2013-2014 budget reflects savings of more than a half million dollars from last year’s budget. Mayor Joe Cox, the board and Jinks were able to decrease spending for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct 1.

With few exceptions, the board agreed with nearly every budgetary decision.

Ward Six Alderman David Phillips explained the significance of this year’s budget to those alderman that have just been elected and weren’t around last year. ”

Thanks to Mike we have dramatically reduced our deficit from last year.

This is a huge deal,” Phillips said.

In the new budget, city employee’s salary, and aldermen’s as well, are frozen. More than 50 percent of the budget consists of city employee salary and insurance.

Just $1 million has been allocated for the nearly complete FEMA 361 building, compared to $2 million last year. While a substantial amount of this money comes from a federal grant, the city will save nearly half a million dollars due to the project’s early completion.

New items in the budget include $5,000 for recycling initiatives, an additional $25,000 on top of last year’s budget of $100,000 for a safe routes to school program and $50,000 that is set aside for future parks among other things.

Services that consumed a healthy chunk of the budget in last year’s budget are not in the 2013-2014 yearly budget, helping the city cut back on spending such as hangar improvements to the airport and a fire truck.

Currently, there is no assistant police chief or assistant street supervisor. Both salaries combined save the city $90,000.

The city saved $38,250 from last year due to cuts in specialized services, and decreased spending to the fire department from last year, saving the city $45,000.

Some savings cancel each other out. While the city will save $75,000 on chemicals, it will spend $100,000 on mosquito spray. While it cuts back on telephone communications by $2,000, saves $1,500 on welding services and $2,000 on telephone communications, it will spend an extra $10,000 on utilities and streetlights.

The city’s millage rate stands at 37.06 mills, a combination of solid waste, debt services and the general fund, while the Brookhaven School District’s millage rate is 60.79 mills.

Officially, the city has until Sept. 15 to approve the budget, however, they were able to get it done ahead of time.

“The board was in harmony this year which is a good thing,” said Estes regarding the budget.

The pursuit of a balanced budget with no shortfall is something the mayor sees down the road.

“I think we have passed a frugal, sensible budget. We are making tough decisions, but it’s all in the pursuit of a balanced budget which benefits everyone in Brookhaven,” Mayor Joe Cox remarked.

In other action, aldermen approved increases of 50 cents in the minimum water rates, sewer rates and solid waste fees.

Similarly, city aldermen approved requests from the head of Brookhaven Water/Sewer Department, Keith Lewis, to implement new fees and increases to Brookhaven citizen’s water bills. Now, there will be a $50 fee for after hour callouts that are not the city’s responsibility.

The board also approved a nonrefundable activation fee of $10 and a transfer fee of $10. Lewis convinced the board to increase returned check fees to $40, up from $25; increase broken lock fees to $100, up from $50; and change late fees to 10 percent of the water bill from a flat $4.

Lewis cited high labor costs and limited time as reasons for the increases.