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Mayor Reichert has reservations about Macon's 2010 budget

The Macon City Council passed the city’s 2010 budget Tuesday, albeit with full knowledge that the council will probably be back at it in the coming months, trying to keep the approximate $112 million budget balanced in the face of dwindling revenues.

Mayor Robert Reichert said he’d sign the budget, and do so without any line-item vetoes. But not without reservations, he said.

The budget doesn’t include nearly as much money as he’d hoped to eventually close the city’s unlined landfill. It relies on a fuel budget the council cut by 10 percent, a figure the mayor called “arbitrary.” It depends on a “very optimistic” predicted attrition rate, he said. If all those jobs don’t become vacant in the coming year, another way to balance the budget will have to be found.

“I think we are putting off until tomorrow decisions that need to be made today,” the mayor told council members before their vote.

Council President Miriam Paris agreed. She, and other members, fully expect the city’s midyear budget review will become a budget adjustment. They will also meet today to discuss scaling back future retiree health benefits, a move meant to entice longtime employees into early retirement.

Council members also await a report from city Chief Administrative Officer Thomas Thomas, who is expected to recommend targeted job cuts throughout the city that could eventually shave more than 150 jobs from the payroll.

That report should be ready “very soon,” according to Andrew Blascovich, spokesman for the mayor’s office.

But the fiscal 2010 budget is done for now. Employees won’t get a raise, but will keep their paid holidays and won’t face the furloughs Reichert had initially suggested.

The council’s appropriations committee did a lot of work to avoid furloughs, and this budget will take the city through the next several months, at least.

That gives city leaders time to consider longer-term answers. It buys time for the economy to improve, eventually taking city revenues back up with it.

“It suffices,” Paris said of the budget, which takes effect July 1.

The fiscal 2010 budget totals about $112 million, with $69.5 million of that in the general fund. It includes funding for about 1,380 city jobs.

The city millage rate, which property taxes are based on, will be set later, after the county’s tax digest is finalized. Only then will property owners know for sure whether they’ll see a tax increase.

The council’s only two Republicans, Nancy White and Erick Erickson, cast the only two votes against the budget. Erickson said it was balanced “on a dream.” Appropriations Chairman Mike Cranford called it “the first step in a process of reducing our work force.”

In other city business Tuesday:

Ÿ The council’s Public Properties Committee signed off on a new lease with the Macon Tennis Association, which allows the association to stage tournaments and keep office space at the John Drew Smith Tennis Center.

If the full council approves, the association will pay $4,200 in rent for the coming year, and $5,000 the year after that. That’s up from $1,200 a year.

There are other details to the package, but altogether Councilman James Timley said it was too generous, an argument he’s made in past years as well. City residents must pay $3.50 per match to play at the center, and that increases to $4.50 on July 1.

Timley said the association should pay the same per-match rate to hold its tournaments, but supporters argue that the economic benefit of having these tournaments in Macon makes the bargain rental price more than worth it.

Ÿ The committee also OK’d a new parking agreement with Georgia College and State University, which has a small annex downtown.

If the full council approves, the university will pay $350 a month for 100 parking spaces in the city’s Mulberry Street parking deck during the day.

The previous agreement charged $10 a month per space for up to 15 spaces.

To contact writer Travis Fain call 744-4213.

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