Sales tax collections running short, Macon council members told

jgaines@macon.comFebruary 18, 2013 

City sales taxes are coming in lower than expected, Macon City Council members heard Monday during a mid-year budget review.

If current trends continue, the sales tax -- the city’s largest single source of revenue -- will bring in about $20 million this fiscal year instead of $24 million, interim Chief Administrative Officer Dale Walker told the council Appropriations Committee.

But even so, at mid-year the city is still $2 million in the black, and should be all right so long as spending is watched carefully, he said.

Other major revenue sources -- property taxes and insurance taxes -- are on target or slightly above projections, Walker said. There was an uptick in sales tax in January, probably due to holiday spending; but not enough to equal the previous year’s revenue, he said. If last year’s trend of a sales-tax receipt increase in the spring continues, the situation should ease, Walker said.

“It all hinges on the sales tax,” he said.

Council members heard a tally of spending from half the city’s departments during Monday’s review. Most line-items are within budget, and the few higher than they should be for this time of year are for relatively small amounts, according to the presentation from Walker, Assistant Chief Administrative Officer for Budget and Strategic Planning Amanda Deaton and various department heads.

Council members Elaine Lucas, Frank Tompkins and Charles Jones urged the purchasing division to work harder on getting more minority- or women-owned businesses to bid for city contracts. Council passed an ordinance last year to provide slight preferences for those businesses, but Lucas said participation remains low.

She, Tompkins and Jones said the administration should proactively ask such firms to bid on city work.

Levee work

The committee voted 4-0 for $25,000 to be spent on sealing joints in the Ocmulgee River levee, as required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Committee member Henry Ficklin was absent; Chairman Tom Ellington said Ficklin had a prior commitment in Savannah.

Council President James Timley said Macon Water Authority, which oversees the levee, knew it would need work before the water authority gave the city $7.6 million in 2011. The money is to be paid in annual installments over 25 years.

The levee work is to be paid for out of that fund, which is legally required to be spent on levee maintenance or eventually helping close the city landfill. Another $600,000 bill for levee work is coming soon, Timley said.

He characterized the water authority’s 2011 agreement as “paying us our money back,” and said it was “deceptive or disingenuous” for the authority to give the city money knowing it would soon have to be spent on the levee.

Throughout debate over the agreement, the water authority stressed that it wasn’t obligated to pay the city anything. Interim City Attorney Judd Drake said the agreement specifically provides for that fund to be spent on repairing parts of the levee within the city, and that the water authority isn’t legally required to get city approval to do so.

The coming $600,000 cost is to deal with an abandoned sewer pipe buried in the levee, Drake said.

“Basically I think the plan is to fill that with cement,” he said.

Street work

A related ordinance and resolution aim to improve an intersection, realigning Twin Pines Drive’s connection with Upper River Road.

The ordinance, from Lucas and Councilman Rick Hutto, and resolution from the mayor’s office, authorize using an extra $20,000 from sales-tax bond money to help cover the total cost of $37,865. That’s the bid from Whiteway Development Corp./Appling Brothers Co. for the work, which includes new curb, gutter and a larger grass median with making the now-slanted intersection perpendicular.

It’s now a dangerous stretch of road, rife with speeders and lacking sidewalks, Hutto said.

Both items passed 4-0, and along with the levee work are expected back for a final vote at Tuesday’s full council meeting.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.