05/08/08 — City Council starts talking about budget

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City Council starts talking about budget

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on May 8, 2008 2:07 PM

The Goldsboro City Council met with City Manager Joe Huffman and several Finance Department employees Monday in order to find ways to narrow spending and avoid increasing the property tax rate. Huffman has proposed a 5-cent increase in the rate for the coming year.

The meeting was the second in a series that has focused on trying to adjust the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins in July.

"We want to try to do everything we can not to increase taxes," Councilman Chuck Allen said.

Allen said he has been noticing how people have handled the increase in gas prices and the dwindling economy.

"I don't usually buy gas at the gas station, but I needed to get some the other day. And I looked around at the pumps -- people were buying $5, $10, $15. None of that would have filled up anyone's tank," he said. "I believe people are hurting, and I want people to know that we as a local government know. And we are listening."

Councilman Bob Waller said that he wants to make sure the proposed 5-cent increase that Huffman proposed is a last resort.

"You've got to show me that we really need the increase," Waller said.

Allen said he not only did not want to implement a higher property tax but also wanted to preserve the balance in the General Fund as much as possible.

So, he came up with a plan to help alleviate some of the financial stress, and after the council members discussed his strategy along with a plan prepared by the Finance Department, they decided to go in the direction of first cutting costs.

At a budget work session last week, council members met with city officials and added several items back in, raising the amount of the proposed budget for the 2008-2009 fiscal year by about $1 million. During Monday's meeting, the council took a few items out of the proposed budget and chose to move some items around to bring the $1 million overage closer to balancing out.

The first step in doing that was to freeze spending effective Monday for the rest of the fiscal year -- until June 31 -- a cut that could save the city nearly $750,000. Some of the city departments spend most of their money during that period of time, and some may still be able to spend a little, but all spending requests for the next few months have to get Huffman's approval.

The councilmen chose to also hold off on a few items that could wait until next year, hoping that the economy and the city's financial status would improve by then.

Three large items were taken out -- street resurfacing, a new tractor for the Public Works Department and storm drainage improvements -- a savings of $300,000.

The council decided to cut $1.05 million, but they also decided to officially add some items back into the budget.

Half a million dollars would be needed for fuel, council members agreed, and $20,000 for the WATCH to help keep the public health program going.

And in an effort to increase efficiency and streamline communication between city departments by way of a geographical information system, council members indicated they believe the city needs to buy several items to keep up with technology and information and agreed to give the Planning Department $200,000 to do so.

The Fire Department requested a sport utility vehicle to transport materials, and the council agreed to add $25,000 to the budget for it.

Allen asked if Huffman could also look into salary increases totaling more than $100,000 more for this year, some of which will go toward Paramount Theatre employees, as well as the management and financial situation of the Goldsboro Municipal Golf Course.

The course's revenue is normally around $600,000, but with the cost of operating it, there is also usually a deficit of about $200,000.

"We need to find a way to make this more self-sufficient," Allen said.

Mayor Al King said he agreed that the finances needed to be reviewed.

"We need to look at the operations. I know we looked at it before but we need to fine tune it," he said.

There are still many budget items up for debate, including whether or not to reconstruct and surface the tennis courts at Mina Weil Park, using other funds toward the Paramount Theatre debt and giving the county $22,148 toward the new animal shelter, but the councilmen say that they will do everything they can to keep taxes low.

"I think if you asked people if they wanted their streets paved or not raise taxes, they would tell you not to raise taxes," Allen said.

The council will meet again next week on the budget.

A public hearing on the proposed 2008-09 budget will be held at the council meeting May 19.