City facing budget shortfall

Published 9:30 pm Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The City of Bainbridge is facing a general budget shortfall of about $343,000 and despite attempts to cut costs, must continue to look for more ways to save money, City Manager Chris Hobby said Tuesday night.

The projected shortfall—the negative number reached once the city’s spending is subtracted from the money it takes in—stems from an 8.6 percent decline in the city’s overall revenue between Oct.-Dec. 2008, when compared with the same period in 2007, according to Hobby. The $343,283 shortfall represents about 3.5 percent of the $9,537,047 general fund budget adopted by the City Council last September.

The shortfall would have been even larger, but after Hobby saw October’s revenue decline sharply, he said he asked the city’s division heads to make budget cuts which totaled $484,531.

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Under Georgia law, local governments have to adopt balanced budgets. That means the city could either withdraw from its reserve account or make further cuts. If the cuts are not made, to prepare for the next fiscal year’s budget the city government would then have to either raise property taxes for city residents or continue to pull from its reserves, which could not be done indefinitely, Hobby said.

While the city has several million dollars in cash and investments, Hobby is leaning toward making more budget cuts and said everything is on the table. He said the largest single budget item that could be cut is the $51,000 the city proposed to spend on its July 4th celebration, which has included a music concert and fireworks in recent years. He told The Post-Searchlight after the meeting he did not want to cut the popular event but everything would be considered, including what remains of the $41,000 had budgeted for consultants to design a not-yet-launched new Web site for the city.

“The budget situation the city finds itself in is pretty severe,” Hobby said.

The decline in revenue has been seen throughout the city’s various sources of revenue, Hobby said. Money received from building permit fees, criminal/traffic fines and fees and franchise fees paid by cable and telephone providers operating within the city were all sharply down. The city’s budget for Oct. 2008-Oct. 2009 had actually planned on a 1-2 percent growth in revenue, so the revenue decline took city leaders by surprise, Hobby said.