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Employee raises saved, tax increase higher
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The first action item on Thursday’s Hinesville City Council meeting agenda was to approve a revised budget for fiscal year 2015.

During a special budget meeting Nov. 12, council members, Mayor Jim Thomas and City Manager Billy Edwards worked with Chief Financial Officer Kim Ryon and other department heads to reduce a $1,340,907 deficit resulting from failure of the special local option sales tax referendum in the Nov. 4 election.

The 90-minute meeting reduced the total deficit to $590,924. This figure was reached by cutting $319,672 in capital purchases from the 2015 budget. Another $154,169 was to be cut by not filling vacant positions in the police and fire departments, and keeping one administrative position part-time.

It also included cancelling $118,926 in proposed merit raises for employees and $110,816 in longevity bonuses. The mayor and council members also agreed to cut their own pay by 10 percent to save $8,400.

When all those cuts were tallied, the council reluctantly decided to increase the ad valorem tax from 10.5 to 11.44 mills.

Paperwork presented to the council at Thursday’s meeting, however, showed a deficit of $713,353, rather than $590,924. The employee merit pay was back, as were longevity bonuses, although the bonus cap was reduced from $500 to $300.

Two council members also decided to opt out of the 10-percent pay cut. They instead decided not to attend the Georgia Municipal Association’s Mayors’ Day Conference next year.

Additional minor cuts were made in other areas, but not enough to make up reinstating raises and bonuses.

The additional $122,429 deficit prompted the council to approve a higher property tax of 11.70 mills, rather than 11.44.

A one-mill increase would bring in $607,000, so a 1.2 increase was needed to meet the deficit. According to Ryon, the proposed millage increase will add about $47 to taxes on a $100,000 property.

“This figure is based on property valued at $100,000,” Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier said. “What’s the average value of residential property in the city?”

Ryon said the average value for residential property in Hinesville is about $75,000. The average value for nonresidential property in the city is about $100,000, she said.

“One of the hardest things to do is go back and cut a budget,” Councilman Keith Jenkins said. “I think all of us did what we could to cut this budget … We have no choice but to do the right thing for both the employees and citizens of Hinesville.”

With no further discussion, the council approved the revised budget. Three public meetings will be held for citizens to express concerns about the tax increase. Two meetings will be on Wednesday, the first at 11:30 a.m. and the second at 6 p.m. A third meeting will be at 3 p.m. Dec. 4 during the next council meeting.

In other business, the council approved a recommendation by Frasier to rename West Mills Avenue to Edelle Osgood Avenue with an effective date of Jan. 1. The council also agreed to contract with the Liberty County Board of Elections to conduct the November 2015 general municipal election.

The council heard from city engineer Paul Simonton and Kelly McInnis about additional requirements associated with the storm water permit issued in Dec. 2012. Simonton said the new permit requirements may result in his engineers returning with a request to increase the vegetation buffer along Peacock Creek in order to increase oxygen levels in the creek.

They’d also likely recommend ordinance changes, and the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission would need to talk about maintenance agreements with private property owners with retention ponds.

Simonton also presented a request for a modification of equipment to be purchased for the wastewater treatment plant. The council approved a request to buy two influent screens from Spaans Babock rather than one screen from Parkson Corporation for $224,000. He said the city would get a better deal and still be within the budget for the plant’s renovation. 

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