City leaders on Monday approved a recommendation by Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas to increase their travel expenditures for fiscal year 2015 as the council goes over next year’s budget.
Council members agreed to increase the proposed travel expenses for the mayor and council from $24,250 to $35,500 in anticipation of more lobbying efforts in the nation’s capital.
“Gentlemen, next year we’re going to need to go to Washington more often,” Thomas said. “Someone from the city is going to have to go there to protect the city from proposed troop cuts at Fort Stewart. I’d like the entire city council to go with me to meet with military and political leaders to make our concerns known.”
Councilman Keith Jenkins agreed, saying losing up to 16,000 soldiers from Fort Stewart would hurt the community. Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier said he not only supports the increased allocations, but also intends to go with the mayor to Washington, D.C.
Thomas told them the travel expenditures were “money well spent.”
The mayor, council members, City Manager Billy Edwards, Assistant City Manager Ken Howard, Chief Financial Officer Kim Ryon and other department heads currently are hashing out next year’s budget over a 10-day period.
The travel/miscellaneous expenses are noted under general fund, administrative expenditures and include travel costs for the mayor and council, assistant city manager, administrative personnel and public relations. Total travel expenditures now recommended for the budget are $40,500.
At the start of Monday’s meeting, Edwards told council members the proposed budget is based on two assumptions: the tax digest will not change, keeping the millage rate at 10.50 mills, and the referendum for Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax VI will pass in the November election. The FY 2015 budget currently incorporates $117,760 for the purchase of patrol vehicles and $1,057,583 for the service of the city’s Build America Bond debt.
Edwards said they expect to get the new tax digest before they complete the budget workshop Sept. 22. Any changes in the digest would be reflected in the budget, he said.
According to the proposed budget, revenues from a local-option sales tax anticipate a 5 percent city-growth rate over FY 2014. The budget also includes a 2.5 percent merit raise for city employees, a total added cost to the general fund of $120,245. And it includes longevity bonuses that add $199,657 to general-fund expenditures.
They continued reviewing and approving each item expenditure under the general fund until they reached recommended expenditures for the street department. Frasier and Jenkins said mowing and edging along city streets are issues they heard about most from constituents.
“All the citizens of Hinesville need to be concerned about how their streets look,” Frasier said. “They need to encourage their neighbors to cut their grass and keep their yards clean.”
Thomas agreed, but added that he’d like to see the most-visible public roads receive priority from the street department, including Highway 84, Gen. Stewart Way, Memorial Drive, Gen. Screven Way, Veterans Parkway, Airport Road and E.G. Miles Parkway.
“We need to develop a maintenance schedule to keep these roads clean,” he said. “These streets need to be kept up to the highest standards because they’re the ones most people see … What I recommend is to cut the grass on each of these roads once a week and do the edging every other week.”
Council members agreed that nothing has changed regarding how the maintenance schedule might affect the budget.
Not all council members were in perfect agreement over expenditures.
Councilman Jason Floyd questioned whether the city is getting anything back from its sister-city relationship with China. Others were not sure if the city is gaining anything from advertising in Georgia Trend magazine. No changes were proposed to the budget for either of these items, however.
City leaders were back in council chambers Tuesday morning for day two of the workshop. They were scheduled to receive input from outside agencies and authorities, including the Liberty County library, Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission, Hinesville Downtown Development Authority, Liberty County Development Authority and the chamber of commerce.