The city council, through its Finance Committee, began its review last night of the 2013-14 city budget, choosing “revenue” as a starting point in examining the budget documents and asking if the city was likely to collect the budgeted $16.2 million in ad valorem taxes. That figure–the same used in the current budget–has fallen short this year by $1.6 million.
Ad valorem taxes are the second largest source of revenue after sales tax, and are budgeted as follows: $4.6 million to the General Fund, $7.2 million to the school board and $4.3 million to debt service. Any downward adjustment in could mean cuts throughout the General Fund.
Throughout the 90-minute budget portion of the committee talks, City Finance Director Melody Salter fielded a barrage of questions about the tax shortfall, saying bankrupt county departments are working with half the personnel as before and had overlooked or delayed assessing a psychiatric center addition to the Brookwood Medical Center and the hospital’s much larger Women’s Center. She said the current year’s shortfall was a county-wide “aberration” due in large part to protested tax assessments and change in property classes–a symptom of the recession that had affected other cities as well.
However, she and the mayor felt comfortable using the higher figure in the upcoming because these large projects will be coming on line in the upcoming fiscal year. Ms. Salter and Mayor Scott McBrayer are trying to end the current year with a $500,000 surplus. Last year’s surplus was $2 million, she said.
Of less concern is the $23.5 million expected from the 3-penny sales tax of which city schools get 1 penny on the dollar, the General Fund receives $1.75 and 25 cents goes to the Capital Fund. Several big retailers will be opening soon, such as DSW and Fresh Market at Brookwood. Nevertheless, several projects were unfunded in the mayor’s budget, including the Comprehensive Traffic Plan, and the popular “Broadway Park” proposed on a lot facing “short” Saulter Road [see below].
Finance Committee business
Members present: Chairman Walter Jones, Jenifer Champ Wallis, Britt Thames, and Peter Wright.
Members absent: Vance Moody
Others present for budget discussions: Fred Hawkins, Heather Reid, Michael Hallman, police and fire department heads, mayor’s Chief of Staff J.J. Bischoff, City Clerk Linda Cook, among others.
Audience attendance: 8
The Finance Committee’s first look at the budget followed a regular committee meeting in which members voted to send the Broadway Park project to the full council with no recommendation. The committee, with the exception of Peter Wright, had previously voted to pursue a purchase contract for a lot on “short” Saulter Road not to exceed $230,000, pending sufficient funds in the next budget. The project has not been included in the budget, and Mr. Wright said Parks and Recreation director Berkley Squires had given an unfavorable report on the plan. Mr. Squires had previously dismissed the possibility of a community garden on the spot because of maintenance issues, he said. Before the vote, Ms. Wallis commented she wasn’t in favor of approving a $300,000 project before the budget is examined.
Other committee action – The committee also tabled a landscaping or beautification project for Bagby Drive, saying it was premature, and carried over an ongoing sidewalk project on Sterrett Avenue that has been delayed because of Publix Center easement issues.
The council has a strenuous schedule to vet the mayor’s budget and adopt it by the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year. General fund discussions were to continue tonight, Tuesday, and move to Capital Projects on Thursday, 4 p.m.
Here is the remaining schedule:
COLAs and Retirement Systems of Alabama on Monday, Sept. 16 at 4 p.m.
Capital Projects Fund, Thursday, Sept. 16, 4 p.m.
PUBLIC HEARING, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 5-6 p.m.
Organizational Changes, Thursday, Sept. 26, 5 p.m.
Continued discussion, Thursday, Sept. 26, 5:00 p.m.
Finalization (prior to council meeting), Monday, Sept. 30, 4:00 p.m.