Valdosta Daily Times

June 13, 2013

City tightens its belt

2014 budget $9.2 million less than last year's

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The Valdosta City Council and department heads for the City of Valdosta met Tuesday and Wednesday evening to work through the FY 2014 budget, which City Council will decide during its June 20 regular session.

The new budget represents major cutbacks in the City’s operating costs, a strategy that City leaders believe is a better solution to delivering the same necessary services to residents without sacrificing quality or raising the millage rate above its current 4.106 mills, currently the lowest in the state.

The budget has been tightened by about $9.2 million, according to City Manager Larry Hanson, and three personnel positions have been

de-funded, including that of Assistant to the City Manager Mara Register, who recently retired, leaving the seat vacant.

In addition, the City plans to freeze 120 other vacancies for the first quarter of FY 2014. These measures will allow the City to increase salaries across the board by 2.5 percent and eliminate furloughs for employees, Hanson said.

The City spends 72 percent of its budget on personnel, which Hanson claims is “how we provide services in government”—with people who do the work. At least 50 percent of the budget is spent on public safety through the Valdosta Police and Fire departments and other programs.

However, the budget also reflects some sacrifices of needs for departments across the board as well. The City is asking public safety to make do with aging equipment, including vehicles currently in the motor pool, fire trucks, safety equipment, computers and other technology, and problems with wastewater treatment and sewer systems must be addressed with funding sources from SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax), loans and grants outside the budget.

“We have talked with every department, and every department said they can live with it,” Hanson said. “And we’re cutting other parts of the City, too.”

The City has yet to officially adopt a SPLOST referendum, but plans are to ask for much less than was presented last year, Hanson said, which will include $250,000 to overhaul the current Mathis Auditorium instead of rebuild it and $4 million for emergency repairs to the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Wastewater issues will become a major expense for the city in the next fiscal year, with inspections of all the sewer lines, repairs to the WWTP and Mud Creek plant, maintenance of the pump stations and plans for the development of a new WWTP. The City plans to eliminate all inflow and infiltration (I&I) problems throughout the system.

The police and fire departments are asking for higher budgets than last years, but not by much. Police is requesting a budget of $12.9 million, coming from last year's budget of $12.5 million. Fire will receive $6.69 million, an increase from last year's $6.28 million.

These increases represent an improvement in pay for public safety employees as well as compensation for the loss of grant funding, such as the FEMA grant in the amount of $346,000 that paid for 55 Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBAs). In spite of needs for newer vehicles, better information technology, and more fire departments, both departments have resolved to make do with what they have, as they are both fully-staffed and wish to remain that way.

The proposed department total for the Mayor and all members of the City Council is $710,524, and for the office of the City Manager, $502,474. Out of that total for Mayor and Council, $167,375 will be spent on travel and training, and $25,050 will be spent for the City Manager's office for the same purpose.