VALDOSTA — Valdosta City Council approved a tentative budget for Fiscal Year 2020 of $99,892,162 after two public hearings.

The final budget is scheduled to be approved 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 23, during a City Council meeting in city hall.

City Manager Mark Barber said it is a balanced budget with a $2.5 million increase from the budget last year. Most of the increase comes from a 1.5 percent cost of living pay increase for all city employees.

When setting a budget, cities and counties across the state have to guess how much money they will receive from property taxes. Barber said the tax commissioner provides the city with an anticipated property assessment, which is an educated guess of how much money the city will receive from property taxes for a fiscal year.

Governments have to decide how much money they will spend for a year before knowing how much money they actually have.

Barber said the city based the budget on an expected 2.5 percent increase in revenue from property taxes and doesn't expect the need for a millage rate increase. That, however, doesn't mean it won't happen.

"We do not anticipate that millage rate number increasing, but the (property tax) digest has to increase 2.5 percent minimal to fund this budget," Barber said.

If that growth doesn't happen, the city may have no other option but to raise the millage rate or make cuts to the budget.

Included in this budget is $16,733,506 for the police department and $9,381,928 for the fire department. 

It also includes new city employees: four new police officers, two community risk reduction officers at the fire department, one assistant superintendent, one technician and one apprentice electrician.

Barber said a big priority for the budget is improvements for the city's wastewater treatment. 

Councilman Tim Carroll said one of the most important parts of the budget is it keeps funding going toward needed water and sewer infrastructure. 

Overall, Carroll said he is happy with the budget city staff put forward. They made room for growth, moved forward on necessary projects and included new equipment purchases.

"It is a little ambitious," Carroll said. "We need to see that digest number come in and make sure it meets what we are asking for, but if it comes in a little shorter than what we need, there is some room in there to make some cuts to get it back in line."

Residents will have an opportunity to speak on the budget if they have any questions or concerns at the meeting next week. City officials encourage the public to attend.

Thomas Lynn is a government and education reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at (229)244-3400 ext. 1256

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