The session started with council members Harold Posey and Ed Miklas discussing how the recently approved U.S. Department of Agriculture loan would affect next year’s budget. Neither was sure when payments on the loan would have to start, as the city has not yet received official notification of the loan being approved. Posey believed payments would start when the loan is completed, while Miklas thought payments would begin in 2014.
The two also mentioned different monthly payments. Posey thought the payments would be approximately $6,100 a month, for a total of $73,200 a year. Miklas believed the payments would be set at $50,000 a year.
In either case, Miklas said he supported the idea of saving funds in the budget before payments are due and using Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax dollars to help pay off the loan.
“At first we’re still using SPLOST money for the payments. But that’s going to last only two years, or something like that,” Miklas said.
As the council moved into a line-by-line examination of the city’s accounts, members were concerned about the numerous accounts that were budgeted but had no funds in them.
“We don’t know what the detail of these things are ... I just noticed on here there are a lot of things that were not budgeted, but we’ve made entries into it,” Posey said.
In lieu of using the approved 2012 budget, which Posey has regularly stated is not accurate, he provided the council with trial balance reports on the city’s financial accounts. These reports were last updated Sept. 30, forcing the council to average out the rest of the year.
City Clerk Michele Jones was able to explain why some budgeted accounts did not have any funds in them, such as the business license account. She said some businesses pay in December for the next year, which would put the payment in the previous year’s account report.
The lack of a well-defined 2012 budget hampered the council’s efforts to set spending limits for the next year. Items such as the city attorney’s fees — which are billed to different departments and accounts depending on the type of issue at hand — were arbitrarily set using the 2012 numbers rather than an average or prediction for the amount of services needed. Other departmental spending limits were set in the same manner.
Mayor Ron Casey said the difficulty with the 2012 budget came from a lack of information and little time to prepare.
“Here’s the problem with the 2012 budget. When I came [into office] the budget had not been done, and I — Michele [Jones] and I — came up with this budget to the best of our ability because there were no figures. ... We came close to being late on getting it in,” he said.
Other items discussed included overtime for city employees, which Miklas and Louise Howell wanted severely cut back or removed from the budget. Casey, however, stated some overtime was necessary as there could be sudden emergencies such as problems with a water main or well.
“You can’t just do away with overtime. There’s always the unseen hand that’ll jump in there and grab you,” he said.
The city council will continue to work on the budget, which may require additional work sessions, according to Posey. He said they would like to have the budget ready by the council’s second meeting in January so it could be approved.