As Hinesville’s fiscal-year 2015 budget workshop went into its final day Monday afternoon, the books showed the city’s total revenues at $33,672,911, but total expenditures were $34,155,044, leaving a deficit of $482,133.
“We still don’t have the updated tax digest,” Chief Financial Officer Kim Ryon said. “If the (tax) digest shows an increase of 5 percent, we can break even without changing the expenditures.”
Mayor Jim Thomas said if there is any increase in the digest, they would apply it to the current deficit in expenditures. Thanks to the current growth in single-family homes and businesses, he expects the updated tax digest to show a modest crease but not 5 percent. The city is required tosubmit a balanced budget each year.
“We’re not going to get there by an increase in the tax digest alone,” City Manager Billy Edwards said. “We’re going to have to look at other areas where we can cut expenditures.”
Thomas, Edwards, Ryan and all five city-council members began searching for expenditures they could cut by first looking at outside agencies. They decided to cut the proposed $7,337 increase in the city’s funding to the Hinesville branch of the Live Oak Public Library and $1,000 from the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority’s promotional budget for advertising in Georgia Trend Magazine.
Although cuts were proposed to funding for other agencies and authorities, the city leaders decided to wait until they get the new tax digest to see if more cuts are needed.
They then turned their attention to possible cuts in the administrative department.
“Our biggest expenses in each department are capital expenses, like purchases of cars and trucks,” Councilman Jason Floyd said. “I’d like each department head to look at promotional expenses, travel and training and see if there’s something they can postpone until next year.”
Edwards agreed, saying he needs guidance from council members and department heads, and his staff could trim from its budget. After some discussion, the leaders decided to cut back on administrative travel by $11,000, including lobbying trips to Washington, D.C., to fight sequestration and possible troop cuts at Fort Stewart. Thomas said they would just have to find some other way to pay for those trips.
They decided to also cut the administrative department’s promotional expenses, taking $1,000 from the city’s Georgia Trend Magazine advertisement, $5,000 from the sister-city relations with China and $12,000 from proposed billboard advertising. Another $9,000 was taken for professional-service consulting for a Georgia Municipal Association contract for a cable and telecommunications service manager.
A total of $23,000 was cut from the Hinesville Police Department, although there was some discussion about funding salaries for officers. Floyd asked why the actual expenditures for salary are always lower than the total budgeted amount for salary, vacation and sick pay.
HPD Chief George Stagmeier said it has to do with turnover, that if an officer retires or resigns, he or she is usually replaced with someone with less experience and, consequently, lower pay. He said the city had some retirements, but much of the turnover occurred shortly after hiring done during police-academy training. About 5 percent of officer candidates wash out during the driving and firearms phases, he said.
“What we want to do is keep the salaries at what they should be,” Thomas said. “That way, we can keep the 86 officers we have.”
Councilman Keith Jenkins, who also is a sheriff’s office captain, said HPD officers’ pay and the high level of training they get could not be the reason for leaving. He said HPD officers are paid well for a town the size of Hinesville.
“We’re constantly recruiting, testing and hiring because we have constant turnover,” Edwards said. “We get an exit interview whenever an employee leaves. Their reasons for leaving are all over the board.”
Changes to the city’s contract with public-works contractor CH2MHILL resulted in savings of $10,717, but the largest savings were found in the city’s proposed Christmas bonus to employees. Those bonuses are now limited to $500 per bonus. That saved $103,672. The proposed budget still includes a 2.5 percent merit raise, however.
By day’s end, the difference between revenues and expenditures had dropped from $482,133 to $297,787. Throughout the expenditure-trimming process, no one mentioned raising property taxes. In fact, Jenkins said he already had received complaints about proposed fee increases.
There will be a public hearing on the budget at the next city-council meeting Oct. 2. City leaders hope to adopt the budget at the Oct. 16 council meeting.