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Gainesville braces for budget cuts

Tonight’s hearing will focus on cuts — and a few expansions

POSTED: June 1, 2009 11:15 p.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

The city's proposed budget would pay $525,000 for the replacement of a 14-year-old fire engine at Fire Station No. 3 on Nancy Creek Road. The replacement would allow the current engine to be used as a reserve truck, according to Fire Chief Jon Canada.

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The Gainesville City Council will hold the first hearing on the city’s budget plans for fiscal year 2010 tonight, and while most proposals include cuts in spending, the budget does include some expansion of services and proposed rate increases for city residents.
The City Council will open the floor for public comment on the proposed $25.8 million budget at 5:30 at the Georgia Mountains Center and will vote on the proposal June 16.
Here’s an overview of some of the impacts the cuts in city spending will have on the city, its residents and its employees:

Impact on residents and property owners
City officials have no plans of raising the millage rate for city property owners in fiscal year 2010, but next year’s budget does include higher fees for some city services.

Residents who use the city’s solid waste collection service will notice an increase of $1.25 on their monthly bills. Residents will also pay $75 instead of $25 for special service requests from the solid waste division.

The Public Utilities Department has also proposed increased fees for some of the services it provides. Some of the proposed fees include raising the deposit required for obtaining service. Gainesville customers and those outside the city limit currently pay a $70 deposit. The department proposes raising that fee to $150 for Gainesville residents and $215 for others, but returning the money after one year of good payment history.

Other changes in fees include raising disconnection for nonpayment from $35 to $40; turning on water from $10 to $15; and turning off water from $5 to $10.

Changes in customers’ water and sewer rates will not be final until October. Director of Public Utilities Kelly Randall said the department wants to wait to see how the department’s revenues change before proposing customers’ rates that would be effective January 2010.

Impact on recreation
While Gainesville Parks and Recreation officials have not proposed an increase in user fees for city park facilities, the agency has cut some of its services.

Green Street Pool will not open this year and the 2010 budget eliminates 66 percent of the department’s specialty day camps, one of the regular day camp sites and special events that have not been historically well-attended.

Some of the casualties of the budget cuts include Bark in the Park, Baby-sitting Camp, Cop Camp and Hip-Hop Dance Camp, according to Deputy Parks Director Michael Graham.

However, popular events such as Touch a Truck, the Daddy-Daughter dance, Princess Camp, and popular dance and fitness classes will stay for now.

Impact on city employees
City employees will go another year without receiving merit raises or longevity checks and employee insurance costs will double beginning July 1. City officials attribute most of the impact on employees to significant increases in health insurance costs.

City Manager Kip Padgett told council members the changes could affect the city’s ability to attract and retain employees.

Padgett said that the elimination of 52 full-time and nine part-time positions, most of which were vacant, would place a strain on some city departments and would need to be closely monitored.

Impact on expansion possibilities (or, what was spared)
Even with all the cuts, Hall Area Transit will be able to expand its routes under the city’s proposed funding plan. A planned expansion of would put two buses on a new route on Atlanta Highway and add extra buses to the overloaded Gold and Blue routes.

The expansion would mostly be funded with federal grant money, but would require a local match of $61,883 from both the Gainesville and Hall County governments.

City officials have made plans to fund their part of the expansion.

The proposed budget also allocates funding for the replacement of a 14-year-old fire engine at Fire Station No. 3 on Nancy Creek Road. The replacement engine would cost $525,000 and allow the current engine to be used as a reserve truck, according to Fire Chief Jon Canada.



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