ALBANY, Ga. — City Manager James Taylor gave Albany City Commissioners their first detailed look at the city's proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget during the commission's work session Tuesday morning, and it was a budget that reflects the economic struggles of the region.
"Folks say the economy is looking up, but I believe it will be two or more years before we see any appreciable (positive) impact on our area," Taylor said. "This budget is one that takes a hard look at some areas of concern, and it's one that a lot of people won't like."
Taylor has set the city's FY 2014 budget at $108,600,000, an $820,275 decrease from the current budget. It includes the elimination of some 16 general fund and eight enterprise fund positions but adds 12 new stormwater management posts. Taylor noted that new stormwater management operations are expected to bring more than $2 million to the city's general fund in the latter part of the fiscal year.
"We looked at ways to provide city services with greater efficiency," Taylor said. "We approached (budget considerations) from the promise we made not to bring you a request with a tax increase.
"I tell you that your staff has reduced costs (during the current fiscal year); they are being good stewards of the taxpayers' money. They will continue to look for ways to provide quality services more efficiently."
Taylor's budget plan also includes no transfer of funds from the city's fund balance, which he said is crucial to maintaining a strong bond rating. A number of items he proposed are expected to stir passionate responses from the community and from city employees, including:
- Reduction of full-time employees from 930 to 919. ("That's not as large a reduction as we need, but it's a move in the right direction," the city manager said.)
- No cost-of-living or merit pay increases.
- No citywide holiday fireworks (although funding is in the current budget for fireworks this year).
- Elimination of funding for the Flint RiverQuarium ($150,000) and the Albany Civil Rights Institute ($50,000).
- Elimination of the city's printing department (a $209,247 savings).
- Funding (estimated at around $500,000) for the air traffic control tower at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport (a sequestration casualty that's being reconsidered by federal lawmakers).
- Leaving 51 percent of the Albany Police Department's current unfilled positions unfunded. (Taylor said, though, that if APD Chief John Proctor has a crucial need for some of the positions, he would try to find funding to fill them.)
Taylor indicated additional cuts would be sought from areas that over the years have become something of sacred cows.
"We're going to look closely at some of the details: cellphones, take-home vehicles, uniforms that the city provides, duplication of services," Taylor said. "And we're going to look into nonprofits paying a fair share for services they receive like fire protection, law enforcement and stormwater usage. Our nonprofits are growing, but our digest isn't.
"The recreation folks aren't going to like it, but we're going to have to stop giving groups reduced costs for using our facilities and programs and have them pay for the services they receive. It's either that, or raise taxes."
Taylor said 59 percent of the city's revenue comes from three sources: property taxes ($15.2 million or 27 percent), sales taxes ($8.99 million, 16 percent) and Water, Gas & Light Commission transfer ($8.74 million, 16 percent).