Council begins tackling budget issues

The Atlanta City Council last week held the first of two planned workshops in preparation for finalizing a budget for next fiscal year, which begins in October.
The council has a series of meetings planned to address various aspects of budgeting for the coming year, including a second workshop on Aug. 21 and public hearings on tax rates.
Last week’s workshop gave the council a chance to review numbers and factors impacting the budget department-by-department.
“What you have in your packets is virtually a balanced budget,” City Manager David Cockrell told council members at the beginning of the workshop, referencing preliminary numbers being reviewed at this stage of the process. “But it is balanced by the fact that we had very, very small amounts of what I call carry-over, which is beginning fund balance. … $26,000 in general fund, and $1,200 or $1,600 in the water and sewer fund -- when you deal with the numbers that we’re dealing with, that’s pretty balanced.”
But, Cockrell added, “It doesn’t have any cost of living adjustments at any point in time. It doesn’t fund any of the capital improvements or special programs that the departments have put in. 
“Initially, if you were to add in everything that was requested … the general fund was upside down $975,000; and the water sewer fund was upside down about $50,000 or $60,000.”
Cockrell said that large equipment needs -- such as a new fire engine and other items that have been requested -- were responsible for those numbers.
“That is a lot of money, in and of itself, on one budget request,” Cockrell said of the fire engine. The city is seeking to replace an engine that is 26 years old, which Fire Chief Robin Betts said could only pump at half its rated capacity.
Another item related to fire protection discussed during the workshop was the cost and risk incurred by the city to cover a large area of the county, outside the city limits, in which there is no Emergency Service District or volunteer fire departments as there are in most other parts of the county. The city receives $10,400 a year from the county to cover this area -- some of which is to the east of the city -- which currently falls within the city’s automatic fire response area.
“This is going to get us into one of the goals and objectives I set for us together as council and staff, is to make a determination as to how much service are we going to provide to the Louisiana line, as far as fire service. Because, the need for this (equipment) gets to be more the bigger your service area is.
“So, we’re sending equipment -- that our taxpayers are requested by the chief to pay $600,000, $700,000 for a piece of equipment -- that could be torn up.
“It’s one thing if it’s a mutual aid call, and the folks that live out that direction have a fire district and they’re paying, and we give as good as we get, and sometimes we need them and they come help us, and sometimes they need us and we come help them on mutual aid -- we do that already.”
The city, and departments and Emergency Service Districts around the county, have mutual aid agreements that call on them to work together in various circumstances.
“But this our primary response, for $10,400 of county funds, which is mostly funded by Atlanta residents.”
Cockrell said that future discussions on the subject were needed, and asked Betts to bring his maps showing the city’s fire response area to a future meeting so the council could view them.
He said any future changes would involve adequate notice to people in areas impacted.
Also during the workshop, Police Chief Jay Womack told the council he’d like to purchase a couple of used vehicles for the department using the Missouri State Highway Patrol Vehicle Purchase Program, which the city has taken advantage of in the past. 
“The last cars I requested were 2012s, and they were $12,000 apiece … I can’t get those anymore because they don’t have any more. They’ve got 2013s, 2014s and 2015s,” Womack said.
Womack said when the time came to purchase the vehicles, he would attempt to buy 2013 models, at $12,900 each, but if none of those were left there should be 2014 models available for $14,000.
Public works is expected to request $150,000 for a boom-axe mower to keep up with mowing needs around the city, along with some other equipment; and the library is asking for a $25,000 study of its physical plant and workflow, among other requests, which include upgrades to the front of the building.
Cockrell also floated the idea of setting aside an amount of money to underwrite the annual Fourth of July festival.
He pointed out that it’s not unusual for communities to help fund these types of community events. 
The chamber of commerce could still fund-raise for the event, but would not be put in a position to take a loss if the effort falls short.
Some project expenditures already in the proposed budget include matching funds of approximately $80,000 for an $800,000 runway rehabilitation project at the airport; and matching funds of $50,000 related to a $275,000 Community Development Block Grant. 

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