If Macon Mayor Robert Reichert has his way, city workers would be heavily impacted by Macon’s next budget.
Tuesday night, Reichert presented to City Council his budget proposal, which includes a $71.9 million general fund. The total budget, which includes other funds such as the Centreplex, Bowden Golf Course, solid waste management and both city airports, comes in at $113 million, which is up from $110.5 million in the current year.
In Reichert’s financial plan, city workers would see more of their paychecks covering health-care insurance. The new health-care plan design requires employees to pay 25 percent of the premium cost for their coverage. Current city retirees would continue to receive coverage, but anyone hired by the city after July 1, 2005, would not be eligible to take their health insurance into retirement.
Financial Director Tom Barber said the mayor wants to change the health-care plan as an incentive for employees to make better, more health conscious decisions.
The changes to the health plan, Barber said, will keep the city’s costs reasonable. In fiscal 2010, the city spent $12.45 million on health insurance and early estimates suggested the city would have to spend $15 million in the coming year if it made no changes. With the changes, Barber said the city will spend about $12.8 million for health care.
If the bad news is paying more for health insurance, the good news for city workers is that they would finally get a pay scale.
The fiscal 2011 budget goes into effect July 1, but the pay scale wouldn’t begin until January 2011.
The pay scale would cost about $1.2 million to implement next year and $2.4 million annually afterward, Reichert said.
The mayor said his pay scale would give city workers appropriate pay raises depending on their lengths of service, but it should not be considered an automatic annual raise. The longer employees stay in their pay grades, Reichert said, the smaller their raises would be, which is intended to encourage them to seek promotions instead of banking on annual raises.
Reichert said the pay scale would only stay in place after next year if the city has the money to pay for it. In the meantime, the purpose of the pay scale, he said, is to correct the inequities that currently exist in the city, especially with public safety personnel.
“(If the pay scale is enacted,) no private would make more than a sergeant. No sergeant would make more than a lieutenant. No lieutenant would make more than a captain,” Reichert said.
While the current budget doesn’t include more layoffs, the cost savings from the January layoffs of 31 city workers will have a big impact in the upcoming budget cycle. The number of city employees is down significantly, from a high of more than 1,450 in June 2009 to just more than 1,200 now.
Estimating conservatively, the mayor said the city expects an almost $2 million bump in revenue from the current year to fiscal 2011. Less than $1 million of that revenue increase comes from the property tax increase this spring when the city had a partial rollback of the millage rate after the county’s revaluations increased overall property values.
The rest of the expected revenue increase comes from an anticipated 2-percent jump in sales tax receipts as well as health-care savings.
Officials also expect reimbursement from Bibb County’s special tax district for expanding fire service in the unincorporated area. The county is building a new fire station, which will require 24 additional firefighters and cost the city about $850,000.
With the bump in revenues comes a bump in spending. The city is budgeting its expenses at $71.9 million in the general fund, which includes the cost of the additional firefighters in the unincorporated area, the pay scale and the city’s match for a potential Hope VI grant, which the Macon Housing Authority has applied for but has not yet been awarded. If the housing authority receives the multimillion dollar federal grant, the city is committed to make three annual payments of approximately $667,000.
Chief Administrative Officer Thomas Thomas said it took four weeks for him and the department heads to put together the proposed budget. With the city’s new “zero-based accounting” approach, he said each department had to start at zero and justify every expense “from fuel costs to office supplies.”
“The budget represents the city’s needs, not our wants,” Thomas said.
The mayor’s budget now heads to the council’s Appropriations Committee, which will begin reviewing it starting today and running through the week of June 7 when the committee will spend full days discussing the budget.
Councilman Mike Cranford, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, joked that council members would “be earning our $4.80 an hour” during the budget vetting process. Cranford said he’s impressed with the effort the mayor and the city department heads put into the budget process, especially the health care move.
“I think it’s very realistic as it reflects these economic times,” he said. “We need to have our employees pay their fair share of health care.”
In his budget presentation, Reichert also highlighted capital improvements such as 30 new police patrol cars, five new garbage trucks, an upgrade to public safety’s 800MHz radio system and various facility and equipment repairs.
In his closing remarks to the council Tuesday, Reichert said he and his administration have attempted to strike a balance between keeping expenses low without sacrificing services to city residents.
“This is a balanced budget that provides for the needs of our community now and in the future,” Reichert said. “We are trying to build a better city for our children and our children’s children.”
To contact writer Chris Horne, call 744-4494.