It’s too bad nobody came to Valdosta’s two public budget hearings, because the city prepared 183 slides with details for each department, including goals and accomplishments. On the LAKE website is that presentation sent on request by City Clerk Teresa Bolden, and converted to HTML by LAKE. Plus the actual budget. No open records requests were required. Oh, and Valdosta runs garbage collection on a balanced budget without any exclusive franchises.
Valdosta News PR 20 June 2013, City Delivers a Balanced Budget: No property tax increase proposed for citizens,
The Valdosta City Council approved the fiscal year 2014 budget for the City of Valdosta at the June 20 City Council meeting, after having the opportunity to hear the proposed budget at the hearings on June 11 and 12. City staff presented the council with a balanced budget, as required by the City Charter, possibly one of the most challenging and difficult budgets prepared in years.
City leaders decreased the overall city budget from $86.2 million to $77.3 million, a result of the completion of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST VI) capital improvement projects and the fact that this funding source will end in December 2013. The 2014 fiscal budget represents a city operating in a fiscally responsible manner with no general obligation debt, something City Manager Larry Hanson credits to the outstanding work of the city department heads, finance director, budget staff and the entire city workforce.
The budget, approved by the City Council, is balanced and includes no proposed tax increases. The City of Valdosta’s millage rate of 4.106 continues to be among the lowest in state. In fact, Valdosta—Georgia’s 14th largest city—has the lowest cumulative taxes of the 15 largest cities in Georgia. The last millage rate increase was in 1992 when the city’s millage was raised to 6.25 mills.
“Our goal in preparing this budget was to make cuts that did not compromise the quality of our services, making sure that we provide our citizens with the same level of services but in a more efficient way and with modest revenues,” said Hanson. “We are particularly proud that, during these difficult times, our city has not had a property tax increase in 20 years. Furthermore, we’ve decreased the millage rate in 11 out of 19 years—something that is unheard of for a city our size in Georgia.”
Hanson noted that this year’s budget presented a unique set of circumstances and challenges that include the following:
Health care costs and retirement costs also continue to increase.
Marginal growth in the tax digest; however, new development often negated by declines in property values.
Sales Tax collections continue at 2007 levels.
Consumer confidence and buying continues to be fragile.
For the first time in three years, all career and part-time city employees will get a 2.5% cost of living pay increase, effective Jan. 1, 2014. The budget will also continue to fund the Heath Care Clinic for employees, dependants and retirees. No furloughs or layoffs are included in the 2014 budget; however, the city will leave 22 vacant positions unfilled throughout the first quarter of the fiscal year and is defunding five positions for the entire fiscal year.
The city has no general fund bonded indebtedness, has a solid bond rating with a continued positive outlook, and continues to retain a sufficient fund balance. Furthermore, utility fees in the city are below average for its residents and businesses—even with the five-year water and sewer rate increase established in July 2012. Citizens will, however, incur a dollar increase for sanitation fees, which have not been adjusted in 10 years. The new sanitation rate will go from $16.50 to $17.50 per month, effective July 1.
To offset the expected revenue shortfalls with minimal affect on service delivery, all city departments examined their operating budgets and implemented several budget reduction measures over the years—such as fuel conservation, paperless policy, streamlined department expenditures, etc.—to operate in the most cost-efficient manner.
“The City of Valdosta has proactively managed our finances through this financial crisis in a measured and responsible way, without major consequences to our service delivery. We will remain vigilant and are doing all we can with what we have to ensure the long-term financial stability of the city,” said Hanson.
The city has endured the challenges of rising costs in 2013, though Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) collections over the past year have mirrored the collection rates from 2006 and in some instances 2007. The City of Valdosta also experienced a $20 million shortfall in anticipated SPLOST VI collections, which ends December 2013, and city capital projects were reduced accordingly. Citizens will have the opportunity to vote on SPLOST VII in November 2013, continuing the one-penny tax and providing the most equitable revenue source to fund future capital improvements in the community.
Hanson said that the sound financial policies have enabled the city to weather the economic downturn better than most. However, it will become difficult to keep up with the level of services for roads, bridges, fire stations and other expenditures for the community to prosper and grow without a revenue source to do so. The city will continue to prioritize the needs of the community, taking care of the highest priorities first.
Citizens may view the 2014 City of Valdosta Budget at www.valdostacity.com.
Hm, if Valdosta put solar panels on its buildings and converted many of its vehicles to solar, there would be no fuel costs….