by Jason Wright / Appen Newspapers
September 08, 2008
MILTON - Milton's City Council got its first look at the $22.8 million fiscal year 2009 budget Sept. 3 in the form of a giant notebook complete with passages detailing department justification for each expenditure.
City Manager Billy Beckett said though the total amount of Milton's budget climbed more than $4.1 million, it was because of the Special Service District (SSD) funds the city received earlier in the summer, which can only be used on one-time cost expenditures. In fact, he said after figuring in CH2M HILL OMI's $7 million contract, the $447,000 building lease on City Hall and $5.7 million in city employee salaries, Milton really only had a few million dollars to work with.
That small amount could be compounded by several "challenges of producing revenue," he said, including Gov. Sonny Perdue's proposed freezing of the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant, which is a state reimbursement to Milton for cash it loses on homestead exemptions.
Perdue proposed the freeze in early August in the wake of the state's own budget crunch. It could cost the city more than $258,000.
Since that money is up in the air, Beckett created what he deemed a "bucket" of things he'd like to buy for the city, including additional police officers, the first year of a lease on a tanker/pumper truck for fire protection and additional human resources software.
Other revenue challenges include state and county economic abatements on several plots of land with which the city must comply and tax appeals that could add hundreds of thousands to the city's coffers.
"We could obviously use that money," he said.
So what could Milton expect from its 2009 budget?
Beckett set aside $1.2 million from the SSD funds for the purchase of more parks and greenspace. A part-time position contracted by CH2M Hill for parks and recreation is also in the document.
Beckett also set aside $100,000 for "something" at Birmingham Park. He said the extent of what the money could buy would be up to council, but he suggested a disc golf course, a picnic area and trail or a gravel parking lot to "show we're serious" about recreation in the city.
A little more than $124,000 is set aside for improvements to council chambers, which also houses municipal court. There is also money set aside for a records clerk and a new system to stream council meetings over the Internet.
On the public safety side, there is money for one additional police officer and requisite equipment per shift, which would bump up coverage to four bodies plus a supervisor. In addition, funding is set up for a narcotics officer, which Beckett said could actually make money for the city, since drug busts usually generate revenue.
"Fayette County actually got a helicopter once," he said.
On the fire side, Beckett also broke out funds for a "mobile cascade" system, which fills oxygen tanks on scene. He said during the extreme heat of Georgia's long summers, such a device is key to keeping firefighters fresh.
Beckett was apologetic to council because with Milton's budget he could only offer a 2.5 percent pay increase for staff — 3.8 percent is the national average. And most of that would be swallowed up by health care increases, he said.
Council will pose its questions about the new budget at an early work session Sept. 8. There council and staff will likely tweak the budget until it meets everyone's approval.
"This is still a living document," said Finance Manager Stacey Inglis. "It's going to change based on any new information you bring to us or staff might have."