05/08/06 — No new taxes proposed for city this year

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No new taxes proposed for city this year

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 8, 2006 1:52 PM

There will be no increase in city taxes this year, a few positions will be added or upgraded and covering the increase in gas costs will be a major expenditure if Goldsboro City Council approves the proposed budget for 2006-07.

City Manager Joe Huffman and Finance Director Richard Durham presented their recommendations to department heads and City Council Friday in the new City Hall.

Although it was not council's first look at the budget, it was the first formal presentation of the data and decision-making process.

Huffman began the work session by thanking the city staff for what he called "great work." He said the budget reflects council's priorities set at its retreat in New Bern.

The total recommended budget for the year is nearly $42.5 million. Last year's budget resolution totaled roughly $41 million. Durham said the numbers are deceiving.

"This increase, though, is a little misleading," he said, adding the total includes close to $850,000 in costs associated with the proposed annexation of Phase XI, Study Area E, the neighborhoods at Buck Swamp and Salem Church roads. There have been multiple challenges to the Phase XI plan, and Wayne County Superior Court Judge Ripley Rand is expected to make a decision regarding the latest challenge in the coming months.

Assistant City Manager Tasha Logan said even though the proposed annexation hasn't gone through, the city is required by law to show a financial plan in the event the judge's decision goes the city's way.

In his introduction to this year's proposal -- called the budget message -- Huffman said city employees kept an eye on efficiency and cost savings.

"Every effort was made to keep costs as low as possible so as to afford the city tax and rate payer the benefits of an efficiently run governmental operation," he said.

The budget includes nearly every possible expenditure the city will make throughout the next year, but does not include all potential costs associated with the proposed annexation, even though it does include the $850,000 in initial annexation bills.

Huffman said department heads made sacrifices to make ends meet.

"It really is a 'get-by' budget," he said.

The $42 million-plus will come from a number of sources -- taxes, state-distributed revenues and utilities. To calculate the funds that will be available, city leaders looked at projected income from these sources as well as city tax collection projections, which they hope will exceed 95 percent this year.

Some of the key expenditures recommended to City Council include more money to cover the increased cost of gasoline, loan payments, annexation, salary adjustments, health and liability insurance, new positions and reclassifications.

Huffman said the request for more than $39,000 to hire a grant writer reflected an attempt by city staff to follow through with priorities voiced by council members at their annual retreat. The only other new position proposed for the upcoming year is a lab technician for the water plant.

Durham said unstable gas prices led to the request that more money be appropriated next year to pay for unleaded gasoline and diesel fuel.

"If you've been to the pumps lately, you know what's happening there," he said, adding the $474,380 recommended for gasoline might cover the whole year.

Overall, the recommendation reflects an increase in $49,380 for unleaded gasoline over the last year, and $25,400 for diesel.

Significant loan payments for City Hall construction and the golf course are also key expenditures, totaling close to $800,000. And health insurance expenditures will increase by 15 percent for 2006-07 -- $267,167 above last year's figure.

Now that council members have attended the first work session and listened to the recommendations, they will likely ask questions and address concerns, Huffman said, and hold more meetings.

Then, a public hearing is set for May 15 to get city residents' input, he added. The budget comes up for approval at the June 5 City Council meeting.