05/12/10 — City talks money

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City talks money

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 12, 2010 1:46 PM

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Troy Herring

Goldsboro City Councilman Jackie Warrick addresses his fellow council members Tuesday as discussions about the city's 2010-11 budget begin.

When asked just what it would take to create a balanced budget without the 5-cent property tax increase he recommended, City Manager Joe Huffman listed a few options: cutting services, closing the municipal golf course, requiring employees to take furloughs.

"I'm not saying I want to do this. My recommendation is ... a 5-cent tax increase," he said. "But you're asking what I would do without 5 cents."

And the reality, he added, is that a reduced amount of revenue -- coupled with an $18 million increase from last year in the amount of debt the city has to pay back -- has created a situation where "tough" decisions must be made.

"Bob (Waller) asked the question, 'What do you do without the tax increase?' I think it's pretty clear," Huffman said. "There is not a whole lot you can do unless you stop doing things. ... I think we're at the point now where those kinds of actions (are what it would take)."

Members of the Goldsboro City Council met Tuesday with department heads and other key members of the city staff to take their first official look at a budget characterized by cuts and an increased financial burden on local residents -- in addition to the recommended tax increase, Huffman is also calling for a 15-percent increase for water use and a 5-percent increase for sewer.

But several board members, including Jackie Warrick, the Rev. Charles Williams and Waller, questioned whether now was the right time to ask more of their constituents.

"I don't know about the rest of the council, but I have had numerous telephone calls ... saying, 'We do not want a tax increase,'" Warrick said. "They are the taxpayers. They are our bosses."

But even so, Warrick wasn't ready to commit to closing the golf course -- even though at one point, he begged the question, "Is the taxpayer, the ordinary taxpayer, expected to fund the golf course?" -- or any of the other steps Huffman said it would take to make the budget work without an increase.

Mayor Al King said the problem with looking at potential places, like the golf course, where cuts could be made is that different residents use different services -- that regardless of what is cut, somebody is going to feel like they got the short end of the stick.

"When we start looking at who benefits from what ... not everyone uses everything we have, other than water and sewer," he said. "So you have to make a call. It's just that simple."

In its current form, the 2010-11 budget includes several actions Huffman said would save the city much-needed money to spend on services, salaries and debt payments.

A salary freeze was recommended, and the employee Christmas party, Christmas decorations for downtown, merit pay and the ArtSmarts program were eliminated.

And organizations including the Chamber of Com-merce, Rebuilding Broken Places, Arts Council, WATCH, Wayne County Museum and Waynesborough Park would receive 20 percent less in funding than they did last year.

Every department took a hit, too, as capital expenditures, from 10 new police cars to laptops for code enforcement officers, were chopped -- of the roughly $2.4 million requested for these items, only $357,000 worth would be funded.

Huffman called it a "bare bones budget" Tuesday, and said his hope is that revenues will increase enough to put some of those items into next year's plan.

And when asked what leaving out the tax increase might mean, he said the outlook was undesirable.

"You mean, there's nothing we can do?" Williams asked.

"Yeah, there's something we could do. We can cut people. We can cut services. But we don't want to do that," King replied. "I'm just saying that somebody has taken a hard look and recommended some hard calls, and whatever we do, there are going to be some very hard decisions we are going to have to make.

"There is just no way around it. We are going to have to not do something that we want to do. It's a matter of funds. ... Like at home, if you don't have the revenue to run your household, you're going to have to delete something."

No vote was had on the budget during Tuesday's session, as the council asked Huffman to go back and put together a recommendation that does not include a tax increase.

"I think we owe it to the citizens to say, 'If we don't have a tax increase, this is what's going to happen,'" Waller said.