Hinesville City Council approved fee and rate increases for building permits, water and sewer, garbage collection and storm water utilities at their meeting Thursday.
After approving the fee and rate increases and amending the motion to make the increases effective Nov. 1, the council then approved the fiscal year 2013 budget, which cuts spending across the board and increases current property tax rates of 9.5 mills by as much as 1 mill due to a general funds shortfall of $1.1 million.
“This was the toughest budget that I’ve ever had to deal with,” Mayor Jim Thomas said. “I want to thank the hard work by all the department heads to get the budget balanced. I also want to thank the city council. They worked hard. They worked really hard!”
Thomas said the council and department heads met six times in September to work on the budget before coming together Oct. 10 for the annual budget workshop.
There, they approved line item cuts, including eliminating non-mandated training with its travel expenses, reducing services for and the city’s contribution to the Liberty Transit System, and agreeing to conduct next year’s planning workshop in Liberty County.
Chief financial officer Kimberly Ryon said the final budget for FY 2013 includes $18,599,551 for the general fund and $754,576 for the Liberty Transit System. The total budget for FY 2013 is $35,947,789, she said.
Prior to voting on the budget, Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier asked about the anticipated revenue that would be generated by increasing the millage rate by a mill. He proposed that if the updated tax digest shows even greater revenues, the extra money should go in the general fund, which otherwise will have nothing extra next year.
Thomas and City Manager Billy Edwards said if additional revenue is generated by the increased millage rate, it will be something for the council to discuss later.
In making the motion to adopt the new budget, Councilman Jason Floyd admitted he did not want to approve a budget that includes raising property taxes and increasing fees and utility rates. He said he realized, however, the council could approve only a balanced budget.
There was more discussion on the proposed fee and rate increases than the final budget, even though the budget was contingent on approval of those increases.
The discussion ended after Councilman Kenneth Shaw verified that senior citizens would be exempted from the increases. Nonetheless, councilman Keith Jenkins said he could not approve the rate increases. His was the only dissenting vote.
According to Ryon, the average current water bill will increase from $24.32 per month to $26.95. The average current sewer bill will increase from $20.50 to $22.67. Garbage collection will increase from $11.39 to $12.46, garbage disposal from $4.79 to $4.97, and dry trash pickup from $5.25 to $5.92. The average current storm water utility bill will increase from $4.25 to $5.86. The total rate increase for most customers will be $8.33 a month, she said.
Another action item approved by the council was revisions to the city’s personnel policy for disciplinary action and its grievance and appeal procedures. After questions by Frasier and Councilman David Anderson were answered by City Attorney Linnie Darden III, the council approved the revised policy, then amended the motion to make the new policy effective immediately.
The council approved a second modification resolution regarding the storm water treatment pond at Bryant Commons and heard a series of information items, including the quarterly status report of construction projects and an update on activities by the Liberty County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Nine police officers and firemen were recognized for helping a Summerville, S.C., couple involved in a serious accident in Hinesville on Oct. 1. Michael Dawson prompted the public recognition of the city’s first responders with a letter, thanking them for their help following the accident.
Executive assistant Sherry Strickland, public relations director Krystal Hart and another police officer were recognized for their work during a Chinese delegation’s visit to Hinesville, Sept. 22-24.
Finally, members of the Amateur Athletic Union basketball team and their coaches were recognized for their athletic and academic achievement. Organization founder Jessie Fleming, coaches Shane Smith and Richard LeCounte, and five players received certificates and a coin by the mayor.