City of Bainbridge budget draft gives insight to future plans

Published 1:09 am Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Friday, Aug. 22, the City of Bainbridge released a draft of its proposed 2014-2015 fiscal year operating budget. The final version of the budget is scheduled to be adopted Sept. 16 by the Bainbridge City Council.

The almost-200-page proposal details how the recently increased millage rate will impact the city’s revenue after the city saw a decrease in incoming sales tax after 2012. Historically, sales tax has been the city’s largest single source of revenue, and city officials believe that tax exemptions have caused the decrease in sales tax revenue.

“Overall in that broad area that is considered taxes, you’re not seeing any growth,” said City Manager Chris Hobby. “What’s happening all across the rural part of the state is a massive tax shift. Places that have historically depended upon sales tax as their primary revenue driver are now having to change gears and become more dependent upon property tax.”

Hobby said that the city has been operating on a deficit the last few years and has utilized reserve funds to make up the difference. The property tax increase is projected to increase revenue and get the city out of the deficit.

“It fills the hole back to level,” Hobby said. “Without that, there would have been massive budget cuts that would have affected service levels. It would have impacted Public Safety. What the citizens are getting is what they’re not losing.”

The budget is divided into three primary types of funds: a general fund, enterprise funds and internal service funds.

The general fund is the only fund supported by taxes. The proposed general fund budget for the upcoming fiscal year is about $9.3 million dollars, making up the largest single portion of the $19 million budget.

Of the $9.3 million in the general fund, almost 70 percent will be spent on personnel costs such as salary and employee benefits. The largest portion of the personnel costs are within Bainbridge Public Safety for the division’s 50-plus officers and employees.

Hobby said that there has been an increase in those employee expenditures due to rising healthcare costs, and one of the city’s main goals for the upcoming year is trying to reduce those costs.

The city is not proposing any large projects for the upcoming fiscal year and does not plan to make large capital purchases, Hobby said.

The budget represents what Hobby describes as a shift in local economies still recovering from the recession.

“Hindsight is always 20/20,” Hobby said. “To do it over again, we probably would have bumped the millage several times over the years, but we kept banking on the idea that the economy was going to turn.”

Hobby said that the city is managing every dollar to the best of its ability, and all departments have been asked to cut spending when and where they can, but that the answer to where those cuts should come from is not easily found.

“You only have so many things where you can cut,” Hobby said. “Are you going to cut Public Safety or Leisure Services? Are you cutting from the Street Department? Where are you cutting? It has to come from someplace.”

Hobby said, “It’s not going to be quick. We’re not going to correct six years of loss in one or two years, but there is the potential to start seeing some slow growth.”

Citizens are encouraged to look at the proposed budget online or at City Hall and make suggestions and comments at a public hearing next Tuesday at the City Council meeting at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall.

Hobby said that his office attempted to make the proposal as user friendly as possible, but that it could still be difficult to understand for someone unfamiliar with public funding.