Macon’s finances just in the black

When auditors crack open Macon’s books in earnest next week, they’ll find a city hanging in the black by its fingertips.

Preliminary numbers show that the city ended fiscal 2009 with about $288,000 to spare in a general fund budget of $73 million. Revenues were down in a slumping economy even more than city finance officers predicted. But enough city departments managed to come in below budget to make everything balance out, Finance Director Tom Barber told City Council members Monday.

The city’s fiscal year ended June 30, and auditors from the Mauldin & Jenkins firm will be going over the records next week, but internal numbers show a balanced budget with little room to spare.

“It wasn’t as bad as what I expected,” Appropriations Committee Chairman Mike Cranford said after a meeting on the issue. “We’re keeping a tight watch on the expenses. ... After the council corrected some things during the budget process, I think this budget wound up pretty good.”

But all is not well for the city, which has weathered one financial storm after another in recent years. Already this year the city has dipped into recently rebuilt reserves to meet its obligations.

Property tax bills have been mailed out, but due to lingering questions surrounding the county’s tax digest, the final amount the city can expect from that key portion of its revenue picture won’t be known for months.

At some point — likely after the first of the year — Mayor Robert Reichert and the City Council will have to decide what to do with the city’s millage rate. With this year’s countywide reassessment of property values bound to increase the city’s total tax base, keeping the millage rate the same would bring in more revenue for the city and effectively raise taxes for many people.

The council can roll the millage rate back to offset that increase, but some are eyeing the potential new revenue. Cranford said Monday that “if you’re asking me now,” he’d favor keeping the rate as is, or at least not rolling it back as much as it would take to keep from raising taxes at all.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 744-4213.