Council approves $411,650 budget deficit
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA — The City Council approved a budget with a deficit of $411,650 for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 at a called meeting Friday.

The vote passed 3-1, with Councilmen Ken Horn, Manuell Smith and Walter Jacobson approving and Mayor-Elect Doug Murphree voting against the motion.

A majority of the deficit stems from a 5 percent cost-of-living raise included for all city employees in addition to regular step raises.

The budget is a significant departure from the initial proposal from Mayor Jim Heigl that had a $36,250 surplus. Heigl said he is highly disappointed in the council’s decision to pass a deficit.

“I’m not in favor of what this council did, but that’s on them,” Heigl said. “We presented them a level, reasonable budget with a little surplus, and all the departments were satisfied with it. For our incoming council persons to have something like this staring them in the face, I don’t think it’s fair to them. I don’t think it’s fair to the city of Sylacauga.”

Murphree, who takes office along with a new council Nov. 5, said the new administration will likely consider changes to lessen the budget shortfalls.

“I can’t vote for a nearly half-million dollar deficit,” Murphree said. “I don’t know what kind of changes may or may not be made at this point, but the new administration will have to look at it, and we’ll go from there.”

Smith said the 5 percent raises were much needed.

“Honestly, I wanted the next council to do the budget, but people said we weren’t completing our jobs by not doing it,” Smith said. “I’m not trying to make anybody mad, but I think as much as we appropriate to agencies in our community, if they can afford a raise, why not give one to people here. Hopefully the raises will make people happy, and they’ll give you more for the dollar.”

Jacobson said he voted for the budget with the intent that the incoming council would reconsider it.

“I think this will give the new administration an opportunity to review it, and then also if they need to they can revise it, amend it, adjust it any way they need to,” Jacobson said. “The budget as proposed originally did not address any of the issues raised during the campaign. We talked about jobs, street conditions, drainage, a new fire truck, and none of that was there, so those will be things that the incoming council will have to address.”

Horn said the city will not be negatively affected by the nearly half-million dollar deficit.

“It’s a good budget,” he said. “The employees needed raises, and no matter what they try to say, we have a reserve of more than $529,000 carrying over from this year’s budget. I think the city is going to be in great shape. We gave our entities the money they needed and didn’t cut anybody. It’s a fair and honest budget, in my opinion.”

Other changes to the proposed budget include an additional $115,000 in capital expenditures for police vehicles and equipment, and increased funds to allow for three captain promotions and a part-time position for the Fire Department.

Appropriations were level-funded with the exception of the Boys Club, Animal Rescue Foundation, Comer Museum, EMA and the County Drug Task Force. The Boys Club was raised from $3,600 to $10,000; ARF was raised from $29,000 to $90,000; Comer Museum was increased by $400; and the EMA and Drug Task Force each received their requested amounts, which totaled an extra $12,000.

City departments will receive $10,645,170; B.B. Comer Library will get $603,720; and Parks and Recreation gets $812,075. The raises and other adjustments in these areas account for an approximate increase of $116,295 over last year’s budget.

Overall, the budget projects expenditures of $13,514,615 and revenues of $13,102,960.

Heigl said the city will have to consider different options to make up for the deficit.

“We’ve got to find $412,000 somewhere,” he said. “Are we going do away with our bonds and earmarked money? Are we going to raise taxes? Those are questions the next administration will have to answer. I just hope people don’t wind up losing jobs, and I hope our citizens don’t lose their services the city is obligated to provide them. It’s a shame, it really is.”

The next regular council meeting is Oct. 3 at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

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© 2012