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City begins budget requests

ALBANY, Ga. -- The first of the city of Albany's 17 departments presented their budget requests to the Albany City Commission Tuesday in an annual tradition that often puts the heads of those departments in the hot seat.

Staring down the barrel of a $4 million revenue shortfall, the heads of those departments are feeling pressure to keep their budgets as trim as possible while avoiding at all costs scaling back service levels.

Three of the city's largest departments -- the police department, the fire department and the Public Works -- all pitched their proposed budgets to the Commission, justifying and rectifying some hard-made decisions.

The first up Tuesday was Fire Chief James Carswell, who's $12.3 million budget is up $348,131 from last year's final amended budget totals. That increase, he said, is due largely to increased costs associated with the use of temporary help. In his Fiscal Year 2011 proposed budget, Carswell has allocated $196,560 for temporary help.

That change stems largely from a penalty incurred by the department in 2009 during an audit by the Insurance Services Offices for not replacing employees when they took annual leave.

Rather than hire the 15 firefighters needed to completely fill the gap -- which would cost $963,508 -- or pay overtime to firefighters in an amount equal to 15 firefighters -- worth more than $1 million -- Carswell decided to use part-time employees to fill the holes, saving about half the cost.

The department did trim costs largely associated with FICA, wage, pension and insurance matching costs, in fire prevention and training divisions due to transitioning between available positions, Carswell said.

Albany Public Works Director Phil Roberson was next up, offering the budget for his department, which includes administration, street division, sewer division and solid waste division.

Roberson said that the administrative department would reduce its budget by $11,698 from FY 2009-2010.

The street division would see a $31,081 increase from last year, with personal services increasing $6,711 and operating expenses increasing by $24,370.

Funding levels will not change for the sewer system. Instead, Roberson said that department will pull roughly $1 million from a $21 million sewer reserve fund to avoid having a rate increase.

Solid Waste Division plans to increase rates by 63 cents per household to cover increased tipping fees at the Dougherty County Landfill.

The Albany Police Department presented an overview of its plans for the FY '11 budget but did not include any numbers outside of the budget itself. The department seems to be down largely in the uniform division, where vacancies have decreased that part of the daprtment's budget by $263,467.

The maintenance budget was also cut $30,000, thanks to new vehicles purchased last year by the Commission. Funding levels increased in nearly every other APD department between $5,000 and $50,000, for a total proposed budget of $15.9 million.

Chief John Proctor told commissioners that he intends to base the upcoming fiscal year around three priorities: providing the best public service, improving crime-fighting efforts and leveraging technology as a tool for success and efficiency.

Proctor said he has been reviewing department organization and wants to improve the supervisor-to-officer ratio, saying that five to seven open lieutenant spots will likely be converted to entry-level officer positions.

Proctor said he'd like to increase officer training and integrate new technology into the department like electronic field-based reporting equipment and e-ticketing equipment for traffic violations, and implement mini-video camera systems on officers to provide additional evidence for use in cases, but also to protect the officer from meritless claims of brutality and abuse. The system would also serve as a new level of accountability for the officers themselves.

Proctor is requesting 21 new cars and five new unmarked cars in APD's proposed budget.

Code Enforcement Director Mike Tilson said that his budget challenges included an added element to his department after Code Enforcement took over alcohol compliance checks from the Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit.

Tilson's budget, $1.3 million, also includes funds for demolition of blighted property, which he said may need to be adjusted at some point during the summer.

Recreation and Parks Director Suzanne Davis presented her requested $4.1 million budget, which is up $120,450 from last year.

The increase reflects implementation of a pay study that recommended increasing wages for city employees and additional funds to hire more security for several events.

It includes a $7,000 increase for Christmas and New Year's Eve fireworks.

Wrapping up Tuesday's commission meeting was Assistant City Clerk Sissy Kelly, who presented the Legislative department budget which encompasses the board members and the city clerk's office.

That budget, which totals $329,216 has been cut by $63,173 due in part to a lack of municipal elections this year and completion of the recodification of city ordinances, which was finished last year.

The biggest budget increase is a proposed $24,000, which would cover costs associated with the implementation of a new records retention program done in conjunction with the Thronateeska Heritage Museum.