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Throughout Georgia, City Finances are improving…..


Throughout Georgia, City Finances Continue to Improve, but New Report Shows Recovery from Great Recession is Incremental

A new report from the National League of Cities (NLC) reveals that municipal finances have stabilized in the wake of the Great Recession, but the recession’s effects are still evident in city budgets across the nation. The 30th annual City Fiscal Conditions report found that fiscal impacts of the 2007 recession are much more substantial when compared to similar downturns in 1990 and 2001. However, modest improvements in city fiscal conditions, including an expansion in general fund revenues, led 82 percent of city finance officers to report their cities are better able to meet their financial needs.

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With 30 years of historical data, the report surveys city finance officers on their cities’ abilities to meet fiscal needs, factors impacting budgets, tax receipts, and revenue and spending trends and provides a context for how current fiscal conditions compare with previous recession and recovery periods.

Highlights from the Report

General Fund Revenues and Expenditures
Trends in general fund revenues tend to reflect the changing economic and fiscal environment of their cities. General fund expenditures increased 1.5 percent in 2014, with continued growth anticipated into 2015. This was driven largely by investments in employee wages, public safety, and capital projects and infrastructure.

Tax Receipts 
Trends in tax receipts provide an understanding of the impacts of the broader economy on city revenues.

  • Property tax revenues: Severely impacted by the recession, property taxes registered their first post-recession gains in 2013, and experienced moderate growth in 2014 (2.4 percent) with 1.2 percent growth expected to continue into 2015.
  • Sales tax revenues: Sales taxes respond more quickly to economic conditions than property taxes, and showed their first signs of post-recession growth in 2011. Sales tax receipts have grown every year since, but the pace of growth has slowed, with 2.3 percent growth expected in 2015.
  • Income tax revenues: Income taxes have been the most volatile tax source during the recovery period, but only about 10 percent of cities have access to income tax. Income tax revenue growth reached a post-recession high in 2012, and is expected to grow by 3.6 percent in 2015.   *Hawkinsville has no income tax revenues…..

Budget Impact Factors 
A number of factors combine to impact the ability of cities to meet their financial needs. The most impactful factors on city budgets were the value of the local tax base (70 percent), health of the local economy (63 percent) and gas and oil prices (24 percent). Infrastructure needs (48 percent), pension costs (38 percent) and health benefit costs (36 percent) were the most negative impacts on city budgets.

“City budgets have been put to the test, and are proving resilient even with limited fiscal tools and revenue raising capacity,” said National League of Cities Research Director Christiana McFarland, the report’s author. “Looking to the future, cities will continue to face of major budget stressors like infrastructure, pensions and healthcare, and will need to make tradeoffs to maintain a fiscal balance.”

My TOP Goals for 2016 for the City of Hawkinsville


  1. hawkinsvilleContinue the downtown beautification efforts.
  2. Refund our dilapidated housing efforts. (We previously identified 106 structures that are dilapidated, blighted, and past the point of repair and are unlivable.  Due to previous efforts, 42 of these structures have been torn down – most without any tax dollars.   We need to continue this push, but a budget item must be funded for the few cases where the CITY has to tear down the structure (subsequently putting a lien on the property to recoup those dollars)).
  3. Prepare a balanced budget that does NOT raise our citizen’s millage rate. (We have managed to keep our millage rate at the same rate for over 20 years).
  4. Continue to improve and market our Hawkinsville Harness Training Facility.
  5. In conjunction with DDA, I would like to see the city purchase a vacant downtown building, fix it up, and rent it to a new business (even at a reduced rate), with the understanding that after one year, the business would either purchase or begin paying market rent.   If purchased, we would use those funds to do another, and then another, and then…..
  6. Continue to work to improve the River Market and the River Walk.
  7. Continue to work with our partners at the Arts Council to better promote and utilize our Historic Opera House.
  8. BRING IN INDUSTRY in our industrial park.
  9. BRING IN ANOTHER GROCERY STORE.
  10. Continue to help grow our existing businesses.
  11. Continue to help lead with GMA (Georgia Municipal Association) in helping forge state and federal legislation as it deals with cities. (and stopping the influx of unfunded mandates).
  12. Improve our airport.
  13. Resurface more streets within our city.
  14. Modernize our software system to allow for direct drafts and debit cards.
  15. Increased usage of Social Media by both myself and the city as a whole.
  16. Begin working on our next SPLOST planning to include more recreation on this side of the river. (new post coming soon on this)
  17. Begin working on our next SPLOST planning to include the new City Hall.
  18. Continue to look for grant opportunities to help us with our aging infrastructure.
  19. Continue to work with the county on doing a better job of tax equity between the City and County and the continued consolidation of services.
  20. Expand and maintain our city cemetery.
  21. Expand our Natural Gas Capacity.

This is not a complete list NOR is it in priority order.

What do YOU think we should add to this list?   I would love to hear YOUR concerns….

Surprise me!


SurpriseI love being surprised.   As I was leaving my lunch today, a young lady spoke to me about the previous post that I did concerning pot holes.  She was giving her approval to the fact that I was trying to be responsive to the needs, while at the same time, kinda chiding me for “you were really asking for it.”    I sat down at her table to finish the conversation and finish my banana pudding dessert.

The discussion continued on local politics.   This particular 20 something young lady actually watches all of our commission meetings on ComSouth Channel 100.  She also watches all of the school board meetings on ComSouth Channel 10.  She not only watched them, but she really pays attention to them.   I spent the next 30 minutes answering questions about downtown, about the city’s pension fund, Tax Equity, about taxes, about the debt on our Spec Building, and about Industrial Development.   She was very informed about her community and asked excellent questions.

The discussion then turned to national politics, and in particular the presidential race.  She knew the candidates and their positions.  She had an opinion and could rationally share it while leaving an opening that she could be wrong.   Most people either don’t have an opinion or will defend their ill informed decision regardless of the facts.

I was surprised because this is really not the norm.   The majority of people are really pretty uninformed and/or apathetic to local government.  And to find a 20ish young lady with that much knowledge and interest was really refreshing.   I wish more people would get involved.   We have so many opportunities to serve in this town.   From the Chamber, to the Arts Council, to Relay for Life, to Rotary, Pulaski Tomorrow, and yes, even to local politics.   There are many ways to get involved.   Getting involved gives you a louder voice.   And when it comes to how groups, organizations or city commissions, are spending local monies or investing time in community projects, a loud voice helps.

Thanks for surprising me.   I love being surprised!

Georgia Truckers File Suit in Attempt to Limit Use of Local Sales Taxes on Fuel


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A class-action lawsuit filed recently by the Georgia Motor Trucking Association and several trucking companies challenges House Bill 170, Georgia’s recent transportation funding legislation. The truckers contend sales taxes imposed by local governments (a.k.a., the City of Hawkinsville and every other city) on motor fuel can only be expended for “providing and maintaining an adequate system of public roads and bridges” and “road and construction maintenance.” The lawsuit cites a provision of the Georgia Constitution that limits the expenditure of state sales taxes on motor fuels to those purposes.
The suit seeks to have local sales taxes collected on motor fuel sales placed in an escrow account pending resolution of the lawsuit, jeopardizing over $500 million in local sales taxes used to fund essential city, county and school needs. Cities in Georgia have a lobbying group, The Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) and GMA believes the proposed diversion of local sales tax receipts is unlikely. However, Hawkinsville and other Cities should be aware of the possibility that the proceeds of taxes on the sale of motor fuels could be withheld. This would be very harmful to our city.

GMA disagrees with the claims in the lawsuit because it ignores the fact that local sales tax revenues:

  • are not imposed by the State;
  • are not eligible for appropriation by the State;
  • are specifically authorized by the Georgia Constitution for the provision of local government services or for educational purposes;
  • are dedicated by Georgia statutes for specific local purposes other than transportation; and
  • in some instances may be contractually dedicated to fund local projects.

Tom Gehl, GMA’s Director of Governmental Relations, notes that the truckers made a similar argument during the debate on HB 170 during the 2015 legislative session, which lawmakers rejected.   It is my hope that the courts will throw out this lawsuit because it has no standing.   LOCAL vs. STATE.

Downtown Beautification….


downtownFollowing input from the downtown merchants that the appearance of downtown had to be improved before encouraging tours, events or economic Development, we have:

The Chamber, Pulaski Tomorrow and Youth Leadership did a downtown clean up in June.

The City, Archway and the Women’s Prison- developed a plan to get the existing prison detail more involved in the upkeep and maintenance of the Commerce Street area, including the eight irrigated flower beds and Cabero Park.

The City and Archway have engaged the Master Gardeners of Central Ga to help us by telling us how best to landscape downtown and develop a sustainability plan for the future.  They will also be assisting us with a design to make Cabero Park more usable and attractive.  This is a current ongoing project.

The Women’s Prison Detail has cleaned out the beds and with the help of the City of Hawkinsville public works department and removed everything that the Master Gardeners said we had managed to kill.  This is also in accordance with gardening practices where fall would be a time to prepare for planting.  Much of the soil had no nutrients and irrigation systems needed maintained.  Dead plants and trees have been removed.

In June of this year, Pulaski Tomorrow Class of 2015 raised over $2,600 for waste receptacles for downtown (I think some of the money is going to signage though).  About a month ago, they agreed to purchase 6 containers. Ginger Lancaster is coordinating to get a status update on the order.

The Hawkinsville Garden Club contributed $1,000 in September (to the Downtown Development Authority) for the purchase of supplies and materials for the Women’s Prison Detail to purchase gardening tools and plants, etc.

In February, the new Master Gardener classes begin in Central Georgia.  A component of the program is dedicated community service to one’s home county.  The City of Hawkinsville has agreed that the City could fund the tuition for 4 or 5 local people ($195 each) to go through the program.  These individuals would then use their community service hours to train and assist the women’s prison detail on the Commerce street project.  This will provide sustainability for the project and valuable job skills training for the women that will improve their outlook upon release.

Also, we applied for (City, Chamber) but did not receive a TPD grant to restore the Way and Way mural and create 2 more.  We could reapply next year.

So, yes, as people have indicated, the downtown area needs improvement, but the improvements ARE UNDER WAY.    The city has limited resources and often we have to neglect one area in order to work on other areas.  Each year we change the areas that we are focusing on (again, due to limited resources).   But we ARE focusing currently on improving the looks of our downtown area.

Let’s work together….


potholeOne of the main complaints of any government (local, state or federal) is that they are non-responsive.   I have personally experienced that often.    However, I want to try to help that on a local level.   As you drive around our city and see things that you think the city should improve on…. Let me know.     There are things that we can’t do, such as STATE ROADS, or things that we simply do not have the resources to do.    But let me know about them and I’ll do my best!

Contact me via TWITTER (@shellyb), or facebook (shellyberryhill) or email (shelly@gawebservices.com).  Or comment to this post.     I will at worst, shoot straight with you and let you know the status!   Pictures of the issues are always appreciated as well.

Thanks,

Shelly

It Takes A Village…..


harness track  Over the last couple of years we have seen LOTS of improvements at the Lawrence Bennett Harness Training Facility.   The City of Hawkinsville has hired a new track manager, Jim Valiente, and have strived to give him the people, tools, and resources that he needs to make this facility a success.    Even on the years that it has not been a financial success, the facility still brings much recognition to Hawkinsville.   We are known throughout the state for this unique asset.   But for many years, we have seen declining revenue and an aging facility take its toll.

This year, again primarily to Jim’s recruiting efforts, we are expecting around 220 horses to be housed and trained at this facility.  We are expecting more events that ever to take place at our Arena.    Much good is happening.

And even better, we are really seeing support from our community in helping us with these efforts.   Recently, Donna Rickerson, our Chamber of Commerce Executive Director painted a Surrey mural on the building in the center of the facility previously known as the track Kitchen.  She has also had multiple tour groups from around the state out checking out this facility.    Also our chamber, along with Lee Slade, our local economic development person, helped us secure a $12,500 matching grant in order to improve some of our bunk houses.

The latest group to join these efforts is “Lisa’s Chics”. Lisa Chics (Bobbie Clemons, Donna Clark, Wendy Gordon, Angela Mimbs, Deborah Reneau)  is a helping hands organization formed in 2011 that assist those in need of helping hands with medical expenses and other hardships.  We were formed to originally provide a fundraiser for their friend, Lisa Hatcher Neal, who was battling cancer.  They held their first bake sale in her honor.  She charged them to continue to help others as they did for her during her illness and for them to continue to do so even if she did not survive her cancer.  They have honored her wishes and have held baked sales and other fundraisers to help others in and around our community that need a helping hand.  They were given the opportunity in 2015 to take over the sponsorship of the Harness Festival Pageant for a fundraiser for their group which has enabled them to assist and reach  more people in their efforts.  They donate 10% of their proceeds to the Hawkinsville Chamber Harness Festival; provide a $250 scholarship for the Miss Harness Festival Queen; make a Relay for Life donation to Team Lisa Hatcher Neal and utilize the remainder of the proceeds for their helping hands outreach.  Their latest effor has been to help restore/renovate the former “track kitchen.” The City agreed to supply the paint and supplies, but this group supplied the important part – the labor.   (The were assisted by the 2015 Harness Festival Queens: Reese Folds, Summer Sinyard, Kinsley Smith, India Cheek, Addye Williams, Briana Conner, Ashley Gidney and Skylar Fisler.)

This group held a reception for the horsemen in April 2015 and immediately recognized that the area/facility needed some TLC if it was going to be a place the horsemen and community could utilize in a better fashion.    Chelsea Tyner  (a City of Hawkinsville employee and past Chair of the Chamber’s Harness Festival Committee) posed the idea to Jim Valiante that the group wanted to take on the task and  Mr.  Valiante was most receptive to the idea of the spruce up.   So the project began….

The chics and harness queens have cleaned out and  painted the kitchen and community room walls; pulled up the carpet and painted the community room floor and hall floor. They have cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms.  They will be providing new curtains and decorative items for the community room and kitchen area.  They will be also purchasing a new screen door for the kitchen.  They will supply a minimal amount of landscaping in the front of the building once the area is cleaned out some.    Donations of landscape product and labor are welcomed…

The City is also providing the prison detail to help with pressure washing and painting the outside of the building.   The final piece of the puzzle will be  to have a new fence and welcome sign and erected in front the building that will be a two fold fix.  (1) to identify the area/building (2) and to also block the end of the building that is so unsightly (houses the A/C unit and electrical stuff and is not so nice to look at).   Photographs of the actual harness racing will be supplied by Chelsea Tyner and those will be hung in the community room and changed seasonally.  Chelsea is also framing two “colors”  (I called them jockey jerseys..) to hang in the community room.  A local citizen, Lance Woods,  donated his time this past week for grading around the building to help with drainage and water standing issues in the front entrance.

Other volunteers have been:  Matt Sinyard (helped with painting one evening with his daughter who is one of ther harness  queens; Michelle Fowler, who is one of the Lisa’s Chics’ sisters  she helped paint the kitchen; David White helped haul the pulled out carpet to the dumpster and Jonathan (who lives at the track) – he actually helped cut and remove the carpet from the community room.  Johnny Gordon, our public works director, has also been instrumental in these efforts.

 

Once everything is finished, the community room will be an ideal gathering place to anyone/group to utilize for outreach and contact with the horsemen.  That will be highly encouraged I hope.

Thank you to all who have been involved in this project, and forgive me for leaving anyone out.    It does take a village to accomplish all of our goals.   If you would like to help with this effort or other efforts going on within our community, please feel free to leave a comment here or contact me personally at shelly@hawkinsvillega.net.

Shelly

 

Consolidation of Services Continues……..


consolidationimageThe voters of Hawkinsville / Pulaski County voted down a proposal to consolidate the governments.    One of the primary “selling points” to a consolidated government is lowering costs.     These same lower costs can be obtained through consolidating SERVICES even though the governments themselves remain separate.   The City and the County have done a great job at consolidating services throughout the years.    E911, EMA, Recreation, Tax Collection, Fire, Police, Animal Control, Building and Code Enforcement and Economic Development are already consolidated.

Beginning July 1, 2015 we are adding ANOTHER to the list.    The City is doing away with our Municipal court and turning over traffic fine collections to the county.    With the retirement of City Clerk Evelyn Herrington as well as the retirement Lodie Johnson (who managed our municipal court), the time is right.    By closing down our municipal court, the city will not have to fill Ms. Johnson’s position, thus saving the costs of that position.   We will also not have to retain a municipal Judge.    AND hours of work allocated to the City Clerk will not have to be performed.    The county Probate Judge, Judge Jeff Jones, will begin hearing all traffic violations.    Violations that are CITY ONLY, (such as dilapidated housing ordinance violations), will be heard by a Code Enforcement Board.   We are recommissioning our current Zoning and Codes Board as a Code Enforcement board to hear the few CITY ONLY ordinance violations that are heard each year.

So…..

Consolidation as it relates to cost savings, continues.  As it relates to SERVICES, continues to be an area that we (City and County) continue to explore.   We don’t need a replication of efforts.   We need to continue to find ways to work together to benefit ALL of our citizens.   The taxpayers we all serve are the real winners when our governments work together.

Shelly

Finally, a Meeting Worth Attending….


downtown (1)I have to attend many meetings. Most of them are a waste of time. I just attended a meeting of a group trying to form a DMA (Downtown Merchants Association). THIS meeting was great! The energy and the momentum were obvious.

The meeting was lead by our Archway Professional, Michelle Elliott​ . The group is trying to do whatever it can to rejuvenate our downtown area. They are looking at Window decorations in the abandoned buildings, cleaning up the streets, repainting and adding new murals to the downtown area, adding trash receptacles and also exploring options to help beef up the Hawkinsville River Market. Donna Rickerson​, our new Hawkinsville Chamber​ executive Director was introduced and she had lots of great ideas.

While it is still early in the process, I am excited that 20+ people care enough to meet and discuss. The City of Hawkinsville​ was well represented by our city manager, Tim Young​ . ComSouth was there, local merchants were there, the Garden Club was there, the new owners of the Butterfly Mansion B&B were there, representatives from our DDA, and Rivers Alive were there as well as simply concerned citizens.

We have lots of work to do, but it is so encouraging when a group like this gets together, not to bash what is not happening, not to wish would should be happening, but to PLAN what CAN Happen.

Let’s all support those that are trying.

Proud to Serve…….


I am very excited.    I have been asked to serve on the GMA (Georgia Municipal Association) Board of Directors AND serve as Chairman of the Public Safety Policy Committee.   One of the reasons that I ran for the City of Hawkinsville Commission was to be able to promote Hawkinsville.   Promote its strong points to our own citizens AND promote it state wide.    This position gives me another outlet to do just that!

GMA does an excellent job of lobbying the state lawmakers on behalf of ALL cities in Georgia.   As Public Safety Committee Chair, I will be intimately involved in helping GMA dissect proposed legislation and how it effects Hawkinsville and other cities across Georgia.   Too often, a law is passed without the full ramifications being understood.   By diving into the details of a proposed law BEFORE it becomes law, we can hopefully get the author of the legislation to change its wording (or drop the bill entirely) if a negative effect on our cities would be the result.   GMA has a great track record in their lobbying efforts.   I am very excited about being able to help.

Thank you GMA for this honor!

Document - GMA Public Safety Welcome Letter

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