When the preliminary work on the 2021 fiscal year budget began in early March, Cartersville City Manager Tamara Brock said the local government was anticipating an entirely different set of numbers.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic — and corresponding economic downturn — called for immediate adjustments.
“We went back to departments and asked them to cut anywhere from 5%-10% in addition to what [City of Cartersville Finance Director Tom Rhinehart] and I had originally cut out as well,” Brock said.
The proposed FY ’21 budget presented at a meeting Wednesday morning ultimately totaled $157,152,985 — a nearly 5% reduction from the figure from FY ’20.
“We’re having to pull from sources to keep this budget balanced, and I can look anybody in the eye and say the City is doing everything we possibly can to share in the burden of getting everybody back on their feet,” said Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini. “My hope is that things will get better a lot quicker than we anticipate, but we simply can’t anticipate it being better any sooner than that.”
Overall, the proposed FY ’21 budget represents an $8,128,170 decrease from the current fiscal year budget, which is tabbed at $165,282,155.
“Some [departments] were asked multiple times to rebalance and make cuts from their budgets,” Rhinehart said. “Some of the departments, we had to ask a total of four or five times and there may be more coming down the road after all this is said and done.”
Those financial unknowns, Rhinehart continued, are likely to continue well into the foreseeable future.
“The proposed budget includes a continuation of the 10-year capital plan, there’s no increase in any utility rates — that’s electric, gas, water and sewer — and there’s no increase in property taxes,” Rhinehart summarized the proposed budget. “Although we will be using the rollback rate … I’ve estimated that rollback rate to be 3.1 mills.”
The budget also calls for an increase in the number of transfers from the City’s water, gas, electric and fiber funds to the local government’s general fund, as well as increasing pension plan contributions from 24% to 28%.
Those increased contributions, Brock indicated, constitutes a roughly $600,000 uptick for the local government.
“The City does not set the State minimum,” Rhinehart said. “That is calculated by the actuary … if our investment in the pension plan doesn’t bounce back from where it is now, we may be looking at a bigger increase in the 2022 budget year.”
The proposed budget includes no salary increases.
“There is an expected health care increase included,” Rhinehart said. “We’ve estimate that to be 15%, and this will be for both the employees and the employer.”
Overall, general fund and special revenue allocations are down 7.7% in the proposed FY ’21 budget. Whereas the FY ’20 figure came in at $31,670.325, the proposed amount for FY ’21 is $29,244,365, representing a roughly $2.4 million decrease.
“This is due to a major decrease in hotel/motel taxes and decreased grant funding,” Rhinehart said. “Currently, there are no grants being pursued in the FY ’21 budget.”
The City gas fund is also seeing a decrease of about $2.7 million. The proposed FY '21 figure of $26,129,395 is a nearly 10% decrease in funding from FY ’20.
Rhinehart attributed that decrease to a reduction in gas purchases and the completion of several capital projects.
Projected water and sewer fund numbers also took a dive, declining about 8.4% in the proposed FY ’21 budget. The $41,534,630 figure marks a nearly $3.8 million decrease from FY ’20 — which Rhinehart once again chalked up as the aftereffects of a decrease in capital expenses.
Other funds, however, are seeing increases. The City’s electric fund, for example, is budgeted at about $1.6 million more than in FY ’20, with the total $48,761,140 figure representing a 3.5% increase over current fiscal year funding.
“This is due to an increase in the purchase of electricity and increase in transfers to the general fund,” Rhinehart said. Without such transfers, he said the City's general fund would be staring down a roughly $4 million shortfall.
The City’s fiber optics fund is set to increase by about 6%, while the city’s solid waste and stormwater funds are expected to see a 6.2% and 4.3% increase in FY '21, respectively.
The proposed budget also calls for a 50% decrease in 2003 SPLOST spending (falling from $100,000 to $50,000) and a 98.2% decrease in 2014 SPLOST spending (which is dwindling from about $2.77 million to just $50,000.)
2020 SPLOST funding, however, is set to increase by 138.7%, swelling from $1.66 million in FY ’20 to $2.86 million in FY ’21.
“This will be used for the overall citywide utility [advanced metering infrastructure] project and funding for a pumper truck for the fire department,” Rhinehart said.
Overall, City personnel expenses are set to increase slightly from $30.3 million to $31 million, while commodity purchases are expected to increase from $55.8 million to $56.4 million. General fund transfers are projected to increase from $7.8 million to $8.3 million, while debt services are projected to increase from $5.49 million to $5.59 million.
Operating expenses, however, are expected to drop from $23.8 million to $21.2 million, while capital expenses are expected to decline from $41.7 million to $34.3 million.
“Most of the capital item decrease is due to the water fund and the gas fund, with the gas fund having the headquarters completed,” Rhinehart said. “And some of the smaller water projects that were bond-funded that were completed have also rolled off the books.”
Overall, the net decrease in proposed operating expenses in the FY ’21 budget comes out to about $2.68 million.
“The decrease is mostly across all funds,” Rhinehart said. “Theres a slight decrease in communications, we have a decrease in lease pool payments, we have decreases in the fuel expenses and we have a slight decrease in vehicle maintenance.”
As for debt services, the FY ’21 proposed budget includes about $2.83 million in 2018 series water and sewer bond issue payments and about $788,000 in 2013 series water and sewer and bond issue payments.
“That was on the water pollution control plant upgrades that are mandated,” Rhinehart said of the 2018 bond debt.
Gas debt is tabbed at $776,000 while general obligation (GO) parks and recreation debt is tabbed at $907,000. The FY ’21 budget also includes a $290,000 tax allocation district (TAD) payment associated with the redevelopment of the Kroger Marketplace shopping center site.
“That increased by about $100,000 there alone,” Rhinehart said.
Capital projects are projected to drop by about $7.29 million. Despite that reduction, Rhinehart said the City still plans on purchasing new police vehicles via Drug Enforcement Administration asset forfeiture funds.
“There are a couple of projects in the GO recreation bond funds and those are $150,000 for Goodyear Clubhouse renovations and a $35,000 expenditure for A/C replacement at the gymnastics [center],” Rhinehart said.
The proposed budget also includes about $26.6 million in water projects, with $19.4 million of the total going towards unfunded mandates — “basically, those things we have to do for the State,” Rhinehart put it.
Other water projects on deck include sewer line replacements along Mission Road, the relocation of the Jimmy Don Crane sewer line near Pettit Creek and water main replacements at Rogers Station. Elsewhere in the proposed budget, Transco distribution station and other gas capital expenditures come out to about $1.83 million.
Overall, electric funding makes up roughly 31% of the total proposed FY ’21 budget, with water and sewer funding comprising 26%. Gas funding and general fund expenditures each represent about 17% of the fiscal pie chart.
At this juncture, Rhinehart said there are no plans for any significant utility rate changes in the proposed FY ’21 budget.
“In the world we’re in now, you can’t look two weeks ahead and know what’s going on versus trying to create a 12-month budget,” Santini said. “The no increases in utility rates, keeping our millage rate the same and rolling it back, not having employee increases or salary increases — I think it shows to our entire community that we’re cutting ourselves very deeply so that we’re sharing in the challenges we anticipate people facing over the next 12 months.”
A first reading of the proposed FY '21 budget is scheduled for a Cartersville City Council meeting on June 4 at 7 p.m.