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Council cuts budget, tries to keep services intact

By Lisa Wilbourne

On Monday May 7, City Council heard a report on Bradford Creek Golf Course. The council unanimously agreed that the golf course provides an important service for the city’s residents and voted, also unanimously, to move the golf course from its classification as an Enterprise Fund, i.e., 100% self-supporting from fees collected, and into the General Fund under the Recreation and Parks umbrella. Council members spoke about the need for the golf course to continue trying to cover as many of its own expenses as possible, with a goal of 90%. Approved for immediate action and paid for by money from the contingency fund, the golf course will undergo an efficiency study. After the study, and presumably based on its findings, council will decide whether the city will continue operating and maintaining the course, or if it will be operated and/or maintained by an outside company.

“We have to invest in our community.”

Mayor Allen Thomas

On Thursday May 10, City Council heard Sheppard Memorial Library’s proposed budget for the the 2012-2013 fiscal year. Funded by the city and the county, both entities preparing budgets with cuts, the library’s forecast is a grim one: hours will be cut; the number of full-time employees will go down; services will suffer; fewer books, audio-visual materials, and periodicals will be ordered; state aid that depends on local funding will be reduced; fees will be raised. Council showed strong support for the library, in we-will-do-whatever-it-takes terms that were reminiscent of the Bradford Creek comments just three days before. Mayor Allen Thomas voiced the similarities, “We have to invest in our community, like we did with the golf course.”

To return to the May 7 meeting, council, in a split vote (Joyner, Glover, Mitchell, Mercer for; Smith, Blackburn against) approved a 52% tax rate. Though the current tax rate is 52%, this would be a considerable decrease-about $2 million-for the city after the recent property revaluation. For the city to bring in the same amount in taxes (“revenue neutral”) in 2012-2013, an increase to 54% would be necessary. 

“I was expecting a slash and burn measure for the 52% rate.

It’s anything but austerity.”

Councilmember Dennis Mitchell

At this reduced rate, the budget calls for expense reductions-in operations, not staffing or services-and for revenue enhancements. If services won’t be cut, and staff won’t be cut, what will?

  • operational and maintenance cuts for each department at varying rates;
  • stretching out the vehicle replacement schedule, ie making cars last longer;
  • reducing 401K supplemental retirement benefits. 

City council takes comfort and pride in the very healthy fund balance, which can be tapped into for one-time capital expenses. At $28 million, the balance is well over state and city requirements.

“I was expecting a slash and burn measure for the 52% rate,” said Councilmember Dennis Mitchell. “It’s anything but austerity. No services are decreased; upgrades are made; a higher than state-required fund balance is maintained.”

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In the May 9 Recreation and Parks Commission meeting, Recreation Superintendent Shana Kriewall presented possibilities for handling the budget cuts within the department. They include:

  • cutting low-use hours at facilities and part-time employees;
  • reducing participation in special events, like Kidsfest and National Night Out
  • reducing the Sunday in the Park concert series (40th Anniversary in 2013!) by at least one
  • capital outlay – these are items between $5,000-35,000 and are often property improvements. 

City council has expressed numerous times throughout the budget process that it wants to keep the citizens’ needs in mind, understanding that while times may be improving, many residents continue to feel the pinch of economic hardship. Council also realizes that the services the city provides are crucial for our community’s well-being, both for the people who are here already and in drawing new businesses and people. 

Also of interest at May 7 and 10 City Council meetings:

  • A large group was present to speak out at the public comments period in favor of the city keeping Bradford Creek. Suggestions for improving the course included providing transportation to and from the course, and increasing marketing and advertising;
  • Greenville Utilities Commission presented a “balanced, but break-even budget,” with no rate increases proposed;
  • Councilmember Max Joyner “very offended” by comments from Councilmember Marion Blackburn on his nomination of Terry Boardman for Recreation and Parks Commission; 
  • Pitt-Greenville Convention and Visitors Authority is interested in building office space in Uptown Greenville; 
  • In a split vote (Smith, Blackburn, Joyner, Glover, Mitchell for; Mercer against), after city was not awarded first-round PARTF funding, council decided to provide additional $250,000 to fund Dream Park. 

Upcoming items:

  • Tuesday, May 15: City Council Budget Committee will meet at 2 p.m. in City Hall Conference Room 337. Agenda items include reviews of Stormwater Fund and Santitation Fund.
  • Tuesday, May 15: Joint GUC/City Pay and Benefits Committee will meet at 5 p.m. in the GUC Board Room;
  • Monday, May 21: Joint GUC/City Council Meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in the GUC Board Room, after which City Council will meet at City Hall.
  • Visit the city’s calendar to see a comprehensive listing of meetings.
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