Leesburg Council works to trim budget

LEESBURG, Ga. -- City Council members in Leesburg will meet again this evening to continue working on a new budget that has been severely impacted by a reduction in the amount of sales tax received.

The city of Leesburg has experienced almost six months of operation under a new agreement on how Lee County and its municipalities share local option sales tax revenue.

In the past, the city received 17.5 percent of all LOST funds. Due to a new agreement, based on such factors as population shift, the city now gets 13 percent of that pie.

"You lost $135,000 this year, and that is only for six months," said Leesburg City Clerk Casey Moore. "So, you can double that for next year. ... I think $270,000 is a fair estimate of what you will be losing."

In addition to receiving a smaller percentage of the LOST money, Moore said the overall sales tax numbers "are not what they used to be."

"Lots of people want to say we are out of the recession, but we are not," she said. "Those numbers aren't coming back as quickly as some people would like to see them."

Moore said the city of Leesburg received $637,596 in LOST funds in 2012. The amount for the fiscal year ending this month is $498,879, based on Moore's projection that the receipts for June should be about $30,000.

City Councilman Bob Wilson suggested that those numbers may improve when John Prince opens his General Motors dealership off Ledo Road in Lee County this year.

Mayor Jim Quinn said the addition of the Prince dealership will help, but that sales tax funds are returned to the county in which the vehicle is titled.

"Ten years ago, counties fought over car dealerships because of the sales tax," Quinn said. "It's not like that anymore."

During budget discussions last week, Moore noted that the Georgia Municipal Association said the city could impose a liquor-by-the-drink tax of 3 percent that is not currently being collected.

"But, we've got one restaurant that serves alcohol," Moore said. "I think you almost have to wait to get more restaurants before you enact this."

Moore said the additional revenue would be offset by the cost of a referendum.

"San Joe's would have to do $100,000 worth of margaritas for us to collect $3,000," said Quinn.

Despite the tight budget, there was a consensus among City Council members to continue with its plans to employ the city's first-ever city manager.

"This person will take a lot off us," said Councilwoman Debra Long, who said the manager likely could offset his or her salary by obtaining grants and management practices.

Quinn instructed Moore to add $65,000 to the budget to provide for the yet-to-be-hired manager's salary. That figure, Quinn said, can be adjusted depending on the employment process.