Review begins for Reichert's proposed 2010 budget

Mayor Robert Reichert’s proposed budget for the 2010 fiscal year didn’t get any prettier Wednesday as Macon City Council’s Appropriations Committee began its initial review of the spending plan.

If officials want to avoid the furloughs, unpaid holidays and increased health insurance charges to city employees that Reichert has recommended, they will need to unearth $3.1 million in savings elsewhere in the budget.

“I don’t know if we’ll find it all, but we’ll look for as much as we can,” Councilman Mike Cranford, chairman of the committee, said shortly after it took a 2 1/2-hour overview of the budget proposal.

The search will be difficult.

Revenues are down, most severely in sales tax proceeds. A projected fall off of nearly $1.2 million in local sales tax revenue during fiscal 2010, which starts July 1, is primarily to blame for a $69 million general fund that is $1.3 million smaller than the one funding city operations this year. Plus, the special purpose local option sales tax, which some officials have credited with keeping the city solvent in recent years, ended in March.

Meanwhile, expenses are up, most glaringly by $1.2 million in health-care costs and nearly $500,000 in fuel expenses. And there’s not a lot of places to cut, Finance Director Tom Barber told council members.

But that won’t stop them from looking. As currently envisioned in the budget, all nonessential employees — everybody but sworn police officers, firefighters and sanitation workers — would have to take a half-day off during each two-week pay period. And nobody would be paid for the nine holidays they are provided next year.

In all, it amounts to an 8 percent loss in pay for many city workers.

In the past, council members have been reticent to inconvenience employees. But they are less concerned with keeping the mayor happy. Many noticed line items in the budget for Reichert’s office that were significantly larger than this year’s, in some cases more than double their current amounts.

“I don’t think that’s a good perception,” Councilman Rick Hutto said.

Reichert’s director of internal affairs, Keith Moffett, promised the legislative body a detailed justification of the funding requests when they begin examining individual departments’ budgets.

“Those numbers are not just imaginary numbers,” Moffett told them.

Councilman James Timley, the president pro-tem, said funding for outside agencies should be put under close scrutiny. He almost immediately noticed $30,000 that would be set aside for the College Hill Corridor to help the organization improve streetscapes between Mercer University and downtown.

“We’re talking about furloughing people and we’re giving money for a walkway to where?” Timley said. “They need to get their own money.”

Cranford keyed in on nearly $500,000 sitting in the police department’s confiscated assets fund.

The money, which law enforcement officers have seized during criminal investigations, can by law be spent only on specific things. But Cranford and others suggested they may look at taking funding for qualifying expenditures out of the budget to force the department to dip into the account.

“That half-a-million has been sitting there for a while,” Cranford said. “I think better use could be made of the confiscated funds this year.”

Councilwoman Elaine Lucas, an Appropriations member, said she wants to see the administration more fully investigate a citywide fuel use policy that limits consumption and “is enforced very stringently.”

“I’m just not totally sold on the idea of having our employees furloughed and their paid holidays taken,” she said.

The committee will resume its review of the budget today at 3 p.m.

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.