Near the end of the annual mid-year budget review, members of the Macon City Council Appropriations Committee got around to what Chairman Tom Ellington called the $4 million elephant in the room.
Committee members heard Feb. 18, during the reviews first half, that sales tax receipts are likely to come in at about $20 million rather than the projected $24 million.
That hasnt changed, said Amanda Deaton, assistant chief administrative officer for budget and planning. But through careful measures, administration officials are aiming to end the year with revenue outstripping expenses by $1 million, she said.
Deaton handed out a sheet of basic ideas, including a freeze on non-essential hiring until July, when the new budget year starts; delaying spending for as long as possible; watching all line-items closely and sweeping even small amounts into unallocated reserves.
Its already known that some items, such as $67,000 for AmeriCorps and $80,000 for a federal lobbyist, wont be used, Deaton said.
So youre already a 40th of the way there, Ellington said, tongue in cheek.
Sales tax is the citys largest source of revenue, slightly outstripping property tax. Sales tax receipts have been really volatile, and interim Chief Administrative Officer Dale Walker has been telling city department heads to spend no more than absolutely necessary for operations, Deaton said.
Ellington said City Council would be more comfortable with a detailed plan on how to reach the goal of being $1 million in the black by the end of June.
Most departmental items were within budget or over by relatively small amounts, but a few lines under Public Works stood out in red ink.
Vehicle repair costs already are over the entire years budget by $46,229.44 -- and the situation is even worse than the numbers indicate, Deaton said.
Largely this is because our garbage trucks are getting old, she said. This year the city bought an expensive compactor, needed to get the landfill up to state standards, instead of new garbage trucks, Deaton said. Now many of the old trucks have an issue daily, she said.
Councilman Virgil Watkins asked how many trucks the city has.
Eighteen, Public Works Director Richard Powell replied. Those running regular garbage routes mostly were bought in the past two years, but many of the rest were bought in 2000 or 2003, and have had a series of engine and transmission replacements, he said.
Powell said garbage trucks have an expected usefulness of six to eight years. But until five years ago, the city hadnt begun replacing trucks in a long time. Replacements are now being bought regularly, but all the old ones havent yet been replaced, he said.
Also raising questions was a red line for electricity use in park facilities. The city expected to spend $65,000 on that for the year but already has been billed $81,163.36.
This is not actually as bad as it looks, Deaton said.
It looks pretty bad, Ellington replied.
But the problem isnt really too much use, she said: When many city facilities transferred to Bibb County ownership under the service delivery deal last year, the electric meters werent changed, Deaton said. So the county is actually responsible for most of those bills.
An invoice has been sent to the county, but hasnt been paid, she said. Walker is now dealing with it, and getting reimbursed will bring the city well under budget, Deaton said.
Deaton brought back answers to some questions council members asked Feb. 18, and one raised hackles: Mayor Robert Reichert, an attorney, paid his annual dues to the American Bar Association with his city purchasing card, as he has in past years. The $489 charge is on the printout Deaton provided.
Councilman Rick Hutto asked facetiously if he should ask for his own dues, and those of fellow attorney Councilwoman Lauren Benedict, to be paid by the city as well. Council specifically said a year ago that the city shouldnt pay Reicherts professional dues, Hutto said.
For that matter, Watkins said, council has been told no, no, no when members asked if Reicherts dues were paid from city funds.
Ellington asked Deaton to convey councils displeasure to Reichert.
I think whats most concerning from my position is that this council was given incorrect information, Ellington said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.