Despite starting with a general fund shortfall of $1.1 million during its annual budget workshop last week, city council members will vote Thursday on a balanced budget for Hinesville’s fiscal year 2013 budget, according to Mayor Jim Thomas and City Manager Billy Edwards.
City leaders and department heads met for two hours Oct. 10 for the budget workshop, where they agreed to major cuts to reduce the general-fund shortfalls to a little more than $18,000. By Monday, Edwards said the remaining shortfall already was down to $9,000.
Since the budget workshop, there have been discussions about reducing the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission’s budget, said Edwards and Chief Financial Officer Kimberly Ryon. If the proposed reduction is approved, Ryon said Hinesville’s portion of LCPC’s budget would be about $9,000 less.
Edwards added that other cuts will be made to make up the remaining shortfall.
“What we did was give a general guidance on what we proposed to cut during the budget workshop,” Thomas said. “When we meet at the next council meeting, we’ll present a balanced budget.”
Thomas explained that when city leaders met last week for the workshop, everyone understood that budget cuts were necessary. He said the city is required to submit a balanced budget every October.
“No department or outside agency was asking for major increases in their budget this year,” Thomas said. “They all realized we were facing another austere year.”
He said additional ways the city plans to save money include sending only himself, the city manager and the city attorney to the countywide planning workshop next year. Also, he said the city’s annual planning workshop will be held in Liberty County next year.
Although he expects it will be more difficult to keep all city leaders together without distractions for two days of detailed planning, the budget doesn’t allow for off-site conferences.
Thomas said the proposed increase in the property-tax rates up to 1 mil come after a three-year moratorium on property-tax increases. To determine how much revenue would be generated by the increase, he said they use a conservative figure of 90 percent of what the county tax office says would be collected based on the current tax digest. A 1-mil increase in property tax rates would generate about $558,000, he said.
The mayor said that special projects like the sculpture at the traffic circle on Memorial Drive, the redesign of Bradwell Park and a veterans memorial walk at Bryant Commons will not be affected by the smaller budget. Each of those projects will be funded by grants and local fundraisers, he said.
Responding to questions about why the city chose to continue supporting the Liberty County Transit System at all, Edwards said the cost to close the system would be too much because the system is federally funded.
“It makes more sense to run it with the recommended minimal services than it would to shut it down,” said Edwards, noting the changed transit routes include eliminating the stop at Liberty County High School but adding a stop at Savannah Tech.
Edwards explained that shutting it down would require a 90-day public notice, and then they would have to pay staff positions for one year. They also would have to refund $25,000 in vouchers to the Coastal Regional Commission. Most of all, they’d have to pay the federal government the fair market value for the eight transit buses.
“It would still cost $292,000 (next year) if we shut it down,” he said. “We felt it was better to reduce our contribution by $294,882 and continue operating it for another year.”
Ryon pointed out the cost for the transit system was reduced from about $1.4 million to about $800,000. Thomas added that few transit systems ever operate with a balanced budget.