Council committee advances proposed 2010 Macon budget

Macon City Council’s Appropriations Committee signed off on the fiscal 2010 budget Monday, setting up a full council vote on the spending plan by the end of this month.

The $111.7 million document includes a $69.5 million general fund. It does not require employee furloughs or the elimination of holiday pay, as Mayor Robert Reichert had proposed when he submitted the budget to the council. He had asked for the forced time off as a way to balance the budget in this nasty economic environment.

Instead, council members found general fund savings elsewhere: They cut travel, fuel and capital expenditures. They held back half-a-million dollars from the $850,000 payment that was to be made to the landfill closure fund. And at the advice of administration officials, they budgeted nearly $900,000 more in savings from positions that are expected to become vacant throughout the next year.

Appropriations Chairman Mike Cranford said his committee worked especially hard to prevent pay cuts to city employees.

“I just can’t tell you how proud I am of our committee for doing the job we were tasked to do, and stopping that,” he said.

Other committee members described the budget process as anxiety ridden given the shortfall of revenues and increased costs.

“This process is never really easy,” Councilwoman Elaine Lucas said.

Councilwoman Nancy White said the city still needs to build its reserves so that one day Macon can fund more progressive work.

“I think we all know it’s still not an ideal situation,” she said.

At a public hearing before the budget was voted on, a handful of people turned up to listen.

One was Tim Thornton, president of Thornton Realty & Development. He urged the council to hold the line when it begins to consider the property tax rate in a few months. With a marked increase in county property values this year, the tax digest will be higher than ever.

Land owners will see a tax increase if the millage rate is not rolled back to an amount corresponding to the level of their increased value. At the beginning of the budget process, Reichert said his hope was to reduce the millage rate some, but not all the way. Thornton said such a “back door” tax increase will hurt homeowners and businesses.

“I’m afraid y’all are going to look at that as a blank check,” Thornton told the council.

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.

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