How do you balance a budget?
In these tough economic times, the City of Hawkinsville is trying to do all that it can to generate revenue and cut expenses. However, we are attempting to generate revenue WITHOUT raising taxes. Our millage rate has not changed (other than rollback rates) since 1987. One would have to travel over 150 miles to find a municipality with a lower millage rate than Hawkinsville (with the exception of Rhine, Ga.). However, costs keep rising. Everyone is aware of the huge increases that everyone has seen in Health Care Insurance Costs. In fact, all types of insurance continue to increase. Other costs are also rising. Plus there are things that really need to be done (Infrastructure, housing issues, etc.). The city’s infrastructure is really getting old. The pipes carrying water to your house are in need of upgrading. We continue to have issues with stormwater pipes not being big enough when there is a big rain.
So what is your city doing? Well, we have cut cut cut cut cut. In fact, we have probably cut our manpower to levels that are not sustainable. I fussed in a previous post about the grass not being maintained at the city owned cemetery, but if we (the city commission) do not give our departments enough manpower to do their jobs, then really, the blame belongs on us. (However, it is up to the city administration to let us know the results of too much cutting so that we can make informed cuts).
We are utilizing prison labor whenever possible. We have details from both the area men’s and women’s prisons that help us cut grass, clean up, etc. While we do pay for (the men’s detail), the costs are ALOT cheaper than we could do alone.
We have over the last few years raised some service fees (on things like trash pickup, water rates, etc.). We expect each department’s service fees to 100% fund that department at a minimum. In other words, the collections from the water bills should cover our annual costs of delivering that water to your house. The garbage fees should cover the costs of weekly pickup. At best, each department services themselves AND provides income into the general fund to offset property taxes. I am proud to say that – on average – each department DOES pay their own way. In fact, our gas department, adds a substantial figure to the general budget every year, while still keeping its rates competitive with other customer alternatives.
We have consolidated services with the county whenever possible. The city and the county get along well and by consolidating services, we can avoid duplication of efforts. We are simply too small a community to do otherwise. In the last several years, we have consolidated tax collections (the county bills and collects our city taxes along with the county taxes). We have consolidated our recreation departments, 911 services, animal control departments, and code enforcement (building inspector) departments. This saves both the city and county on employees and related costs such as providing space/furniture/utilities, etc. And most recently, we have entered into a inter-governmental agreement with the county whereas the Sheriff now has full law enforcement duties in both the city and county. This reduces administration costs and allows the Sheriff to better manage the manpower issues. (In fact, service levels for the city residents have already INCREASED with two officers on patrol within the city at all times, previously there were times that we could only afford to have ONE officer on duty). While we do pay the county for these services, the cost is substaintially less than we were paying to go it alone – and the service has increased – WIN WIN!
While we have separate city/county fire departments, we share a chief. So those departments are “practically” consolidated and we may move to formalize that consolidation before long.
So these consolidation efforts are one way that we are working to keep our costs contained.
Utilizing SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) is another way that we have been able to maintain our property tax rates. SPLOST allows us to make much needed capital improvements that we quite simply could not afford otherwise. In the upcoming SPLOST (the one just passed), we have 1.5 million dollars allocated for infrastructure upgrades to our water, sewage, and gas lines. Plus roads, recreation dollars, and fire and police equipment.
But the purpose of this post is to tell you about another source of money that we have been very aggresive in obtaining. That is GRANTS. Now on a personal level, I wish the state and federal boys would cut out alot of these grants with a dollar for dollar lowering of our taxes. In theory, I don’t agree with most of these grants. However, if the state/federal agencies are handing out money – I want to be sure that the City of Hawkinsville’s hand is open and reaching for it. We want our share (or more) of these monies. And we have been very successful along these lines – more successful than I think most people realize.
One of our primary sources of grant income has been our successful CBDG grants (Community Block Development Grants). Cities can apply for up to $500,000 every other year. However, because we have taken the massive steps to become an opportunity zone / enterprise zone, we can actually now apply for these grants EVERY YEAR. That’s huge!!! We have recently completed the 6th street project. This project was funded by a $500,000 CBDG grant and replaced water lines and added a sidewalk along sixth street. Then we applied for another $500,000 CBDG grant to replace the water lines in Orchard Hill S/D. We received this grant, and when we bid out the job, the bids came back lower than expected and we subsequently expanded the scope of this project to include Forest Hill S/D. These CBDG can only be used in areas below certain income thresholds. So the SPLOST monies will be allocated to areas that are not CBDG areas.
We received a $500,000 ONE GEORGIA grant that will be used to build the community farmers market on part of the old Pillowtex mill property. We also received a $500,000 CBDG grant for environmental cleanup at the mill site that LandMark Development is developing into a housing complex.
We have also received a $18,500 grant for police department equipment, a $250,000 fire equipment grant, a $10,000 Historic Preservation Grant for replacing/repairing windows at the Opera House, and a $2,500 Home Depot Grant for building wheelchair ramps on houses within our community (of which I think about 8 have been built with donated labor from both the Deacons and Stewards Association and Darryl Brown Construction). And also a grant for landscaping and design work at our city entrances.
We received a 3 year GICH (Georgia Initiative for Community Housing) grant (no money) that allows us to partake of training and resources with other GICH designated communities twice a year. (only3 communities a year get this designation).
And the latest announcement is a HUD grant for $1,000,000. (incorrectly advertised by HUD as a $650,000 grant). We have just received notification that we have won a $1,000,000 grant that will be used to facilitate the development of Phase I of the cotton mill lofts – the housing portion of the development at the old Pillowtex mill.
We were recently named a Preserve America Community, a federal designation that while not having a check attached, will allow us to apply for additional grants due to having that designation.
And if all continues to go our way, we will receive another $500,000 CBDG grant for housing allocated to our McDuffie Street Housing project proposed by our H-GICH (Hawkinsville – Georgia Initiative for Community Housing) committee. AND a $300,000 CHIP (Community Housing Initiative Program) grant for housing issues on the North side of town. We hope (and think that we will) to be awarded BOTH of these grants by the end of August, 2010.
I am sure that I have left some recent grants out. Every department in the city is keenly aware that they need to help us fund their work. Each department actively seeks out grant funding that can be utilized in their department.
Did you have any idea that the City of Hawkinsville had received these grants?
The other way to grow revenue without raising property taxes is through controlled growth. But growth requires JOBS. We hope the pending sale of our spec building to the Korean companies will not only put that property back on the tax digest but will also provide hundreds of jobs. Jobs mean people. People mean houses and businesses to support those people. Houses and businesses mean an increased tax digest – more money – without raising the rates. Again, a WIN WIN for all involved.
Let me know your thoughts! What other areas to we need to be looking at? What are your thoughts on grants? consolidation? cutting expenses? improving infrastructure, etc. etc. Inquiring minds want to know. At best, comment on this post, at worst, shoot me a private email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know your thoughts.
Cemetery Grass Cutting Update
I brought up my disappointment with the condition of the grass at Orange Hill Cemetery tonight at the City of Hawkinsville Commission meeting. I had not been the only person to notice. The Commission has instructed city administration to do the following:
1. Get the grass cut immediately
2. Report back to us the estimated yearly cost of keeping the cemetery in top condition.
3. Solicit some bids from local landscaping companies in order to ascertain the feasibility of privatizing this function of the city.
I am not sure exactly where the fault lies on this one. Did some one not perform as asked? Did the administration not put the correct priority on the condition of the cemetery? Did the city commission not allocate enough budgetary support, ie, are we too short handed due to staffing reductions to handle this item correctly? If the answer is one of the first two options, then someone needs yelling at. If the answer is the third, then we request that city administration yell at us. If we are not providing the funds necessary to accomplish adequate maintenance, then we either need to increase the funds or reallocate money from elsewhere.
City of Hawkinsville Cemetery
I just left a funeral and graveside at Orange Hill Cemetery. The Cemetery is owned by the City of Hawkinsville. I was very upset to find the grass was knee high. It was very embarrassing. For any people at attendance, I want to personally apologize on behalf of the city. We have a city commission meeting Monday night and you can rest assured that this item will be HIGH on my agenda for that meeting. If you have anything that YOU think I ought to be bringing up at city council – post it as a comment here!