Statesboro’s 2015 Budget Tops $50mil

From the Herald…

Statesboro city officials aren’t expecting a big crowd for Thursday’s 4 p.m. public hearing on the fiscal year 2015 budget. No tax increases are proposed.

In outline, the general fund — the portion of the budget that receives property taxes — has changed little from the past year’s budget. In fact, it’s a bit smaller.

But the budget does include a previously discussed 2.5 percent raise for city employees. And the general fund, balanced at roughly $13.7 million, actually represents a little more than one-fourth of the total city budget, which adds up to more than $50 million. Citizens are invited to City Hall to learn more about the budget during Thursday’s hearing.

“Any questions that they have, anything that they want to comment on, that’s when we do that, is at the public hearing, and we hold it at least one week in advance of the adoption of the budget,” City Finance Director Cindy West said.

City Council is slated to adopt the budget at its regular meeting on June 17.

Copies of the proposed 2015 budget, the 2014 budget and some earlier budgets are also available at www.statesboroga.gov/finance.

General fund revenues for the new fiscal year, which will begin July 1, are projected at $4,917 less than in the 2014 budget, which closes June 30. Meanwhile, budgeted spending will be $3,935 less.

If the new budget turned out to be exact on both projections, which is very unlikely, the general fund would break even and have $229 left over. City Manager Frank Parker is actually planning for the city to do better than that.

“I usually overestimate slightly what it’s going to cost us to run government and I underestimate intentionally what revenues we’re going to get,” Parker said. “That way you end up with a surplus each year that all government needs to have for lean times.”

The city is working to restore its reserves to recommended levels after years when they were depleted, he said.

Some potential sources of revenue growth are out there, such as recently built apartments and proposed new shopping centers. But the city isn’t counting any chickens before they hatch, according to West and Parker.

Even some growth that has already occurred may not be reflected in the revenue projections. At this point, the county Board of Assessors has not provided a final tax digest, with individual property valuations remaining subject to appeal, Parker said.

So the values remain estimates, and he keeps the growth projection within what was expected for the current year.

“We’ve seen a good bit of growth in the county but also in the city the last couple of years, and I’m hoping we’re starting to see some of that reflected in a little bit higher levels of collections on property tax,” Parker said.

When City Council held its budget retreat — a daylong discussion at City Hall with presentations by department heads — in April, Parker recommended a 2.5 percent raise for city employees. Some council members suggested giving a 1 percent raise and a one-time bonus instead, as the city has done for several years.

However, department heads argued for restoring step increases as provided in the city’s established pay plan, warning that the city might otherwise lose employees to expanding industries. The 2.5 percent raise remains in the budget being presented at Thursday’s hearing.

“That is one step increase on the pay plan for all employees,” Parker said Tuesday.

Besides the general fund, the city’s budget includes enterprise funds with their own fees, such as the water and waste water fund and the natural gas fund; capital projects budgets supported by the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax and a Community Development Block Grant; and internal funds such as the health insurance and vehicle fleet funds, to which the various departments contribute.