City Council committee wraps up midyear budget review

Macon City Council’s Appropriations Committee wrapped up its midyear budget reviews Thursday, and as expected, the city faces few financial bright spots in the near future.

After officials spent the past two days examining individual line items that looked in danger of going over budget, Finance Director Tom Barber at the end presented larger “systemic problems” that have become a drag on city coffers. Revenues are down. Compared to the halfway point in the past fiscal year, property taxes, sales tax and inspections and fees yielded more than $850,000 fewer dollars.

Meanwhile, costs increased in several categories compared to the previous year: personnel, fuel, vehicle repair, electricity and health insurance payments were up more than $3 million altogether.

To some extent, these costs have become problems because of rate or control issues, Barber said. But they can be difficult to wrangle in. Personnel costs have increased even though the number of employees did not, due to raises in salary and the growing cost of insuring workers. Vehicle repairs are on the rise as the city’s fleet deteriorates. And many of these issues will continue to be problematic as the administration begins writing next year’s budget, which goes into effect July 1.

“It’s going to be hard, I don’t care what we do, because the revenues are going to be down, and the expenses are going to be up,” Barber said.

Macon already faces the problem of a $2 million shortfall that’s projected to occur by the time this fiscal year ends June 30.

Mayor Robert Reichert’s director of internal affairs, Keith Moffett, told council members that Reichert is talking daily to Barber and Chief Administrative Officer Thomas Thomas about different ways to deal with budgeting during this recession.

There are some “out of the box” ideas being discussed, Moffett said, though he did not mention anything specific.

“They’re going to be hard when they get out into the public, but they are going to be the right way to do business,” Moffett said.

Mike Cranford, chairman of the council’s Appropriations Committee, said that despite the dire dialogue produced by the review, he was “highly impressed” with the administration’s presentation. They didn’t gloss over the sore spots and presented all the information they were asked to present, he said.

“I think a lot of us on council, especially those of us on the Appropriations Committee, we’ve seen this coming for the last three years,” he said.

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.