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Leesburg budget includes cost-of-living raises

LEESBURG, Ga. -- Even with an estimated 10 percent decline in sales tax revenue over the current fiscal year, the city of Leesburg is expected to pass a Fiscal Year 2011 budget on June 30 that will show an increase of around $200,000.

The roughly $3.6 million budget will include funding for engineer(s) to manage the city's new wastewater treatment plan, which is expected to come online in August or Septemeber.

"We have to decide if it makes more sense to hire city employees to manage the site or if it is more fiscally responsible to contract the work," Mayor Jim Quinn said. "Our Water and Sewer Committee will meet next week to consider proposals for the work."

Even with the added expense of a wastewater manager, City Clerk Casey Moore said the city is fortunate to have collected enough franchise and other annual fees to account for the budget increase.

But she notes that the proposed balanced budget was not merely a product of chance.

"We sat down with our department heads beforehand and asked them what they wanted to accomplish next year," Moore said. "This was basically the scoop we gave them: The budget's going to be tight and if there's something in particular you want to do, you're going to have to make concessions elsewhere in your budget.

"We told department heads to ask themselves a question: Do you really need (a budget item) or do you just want to buy it? I think we've gotten smarter in that respect over the years because we pay more attention to the details, to the little stuff."

Quinn said the Leesburg City Council's fiscal conservatism allows the board to keep the city's budget in check.

"We knew going in that in this economy, there just wasn't going to be a lot of wiggle room," he said. "There wasn't going to be a lot to add or a lot to take away. Mr. (Councilman Bobby) Wilson has a background in accounting, and he and Casey really went over every budget item carefully.

"I think our department heads knew going into the process that they couldn't ask for something that wasn't absolutely necessary. If they couldn't justify a request, they knew we weren't going to approve it."

While an increase in city water and sewage rates incorporated when work began on the wastewater treatment plant early in the year will help offset construction costs beyond a $5 million special-purpose local-option sales tax infusion of funds, the City Council will have to decide how to pay any remaining costs.

"That's something we'll have to determine at a later date, but right now we expect to give our employees a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment without increasing the millage rate," Moore said.