Council is facing budget challenges

Published 2:20 pm Sunday, May 2, 2010

Contributing Editor

Washington’s City Council begins cobbling the city’s budget for fiscal year 2010-2011 on Monday.
The council’s meeting, which begins at 4:30 p.m. in the Council Chamber of the Municipal Building, begins a series of budget work sessions.
Although City Manager James C. Smith presented his proposed $62.1 million overall budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, last month, there is no doubt it will be changed by the council. The proposed budget for the city’s general fund, which pays for day-to-day city operations, is $14.2 million of the overall $62.1 million spending plan.
Mayor Archie Jennings and council members have made it clear they want to cut costs and increase revenues where needed. The effects of the Great Recession have taken their toll on several revenue sources for the city. The loss of revenues combined with increasing costs, especially insurance-related expenses, presents a challenge when it comes to developing a budget for the next fiscal year, city officials said.
“I expect (revenue) incomes to be down from where they were this year,” Councilman Doug Mercer said Saturday.
Faced with a decline in revenues, the council will have to act appropriately, he said.
“In my opinion, we have got to reduce our operating costs somehow,” Mercer said, adding that it makes sense to do that first with the electric fund, the largest fund in the overall budget.
The council is on record as desiring to reduce, if not eliminate, the annual transfer of money from the electric fund to the general fund.
“We’d like to begin reducing the transfer from the electric fund to the general fund. It’s going to take a long, hard look to do that,” Mercer said.
Ed Moultrie, in an interview Saturday, said he planned to spend parts of the weekend reviewing the proposed budget to prepare for Monday’s budget work session.
“I think its going to be interesting to see how the city allocates money to different organizations and groups in the city,” said Moultrie, a newcomer to the council.
Asked which areas in the budget he intends to look at closely, Moultrie said, “I guess the utilities and the police department.”
The council is considering several sites for a new police station and trying to determine how much the city can afford to spend on a new police station. Some Washington Electric Utilities customers have complained about high electric bills and asked the council to address their concerns.
Last month, Mayor Pro Tempore Bobby Roberson expressed concerns that shortfalls in the current enterprise funds, which he said could be about $1 million, will affect how the council finalizes the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
The council faces at least one challenge as it begins its work on the upcoming budget: Trying to determine — as close as possible — how much revenue its property-tax rate (expected to remain at 60 cents per $100 valuation) will generate in the next fiscal year. Beaufort County, in the final stages of its revaluation of properties in the county, has not finalized property values. Several property owners are appealing the values assigned to their properties. Until property values are finalized, the city will not know the total values of all properties within the city limits.
The proposed budget may be viewed by visiting the city’s Web site — — or at the city clerk’s office.