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Tight budget nixes city projects

POSTED: April 22, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Some projects proposed by Gainesville department heads have already been subject to the chopping block.

Gainesville City Manager Bryan Shuler presented a list of capital projects to the City Council that was considerably shorter than the list of requested capital projects.

"I will tell you that it is significantly less in real, city dollars than the prior years, and for the last several years," Shuler told the council.

Indeed, the "work in progress" capital plan for fiscal year 2009 purports to spend about 62 percent less of the city’s general fund than the current year has.

The cut in general fund spending most certainly means projects have been cut from the list of requests that city department heads have submitted in the last two weeks.

On the list of cut projects is a request from the fire department to purchase two $20,000 tornado sirens that would serve areas of the city that are out of the other city sirens’ reach.

However, $60,000 that Fire Chief Jon Canada requested to pay for replacement vehicles for himself and one of the fire inspectors survived the first round of cuts.

Requested money for the city’s sidewalk program, which would add or improve sidewalks on Myrtle Street, Dorsey Street, Hazel Street, Shallowford Road and the west end of Jesse Jewell Parkway, were left on the list.

Also, plans for $725,000 of storm drain improvements in Sherwood Park and other areas in the city are still included in the list of projects for city spending.

Shuler said those improvements were left on the list because "that’s the most significant single project in the program at this point in time."

But the city’s Public Works Department was also subject to cuts and did not receive the money that would pay for the development of an improvement plan for the city’s storm water drainage system or the addition of resident-requested pedestrian signals on Shallowford Road near Wal-Mart.

A request for money to replace playground equipment from the Parks and Recreation Department has also been left out of the 2009 budget plan.

Before Shuler discussed the funds for the capital projects with the council members, he assured them that the capital program budget is "a work in progress."

"It’s just a first cut at looking at what available revenues we anticipate having and some of the initial priorities that we’ve identified," said Shuler.

"It’s not the final capital plan, but we wanted to show the council the amount of funding we anticipate having available and how it could be distributed based on priority needs at this point in time," Shuler said.

For example, $450,000 could be made available for some of the cut projects if the city is able to replace one of its fire trucks with sales tax money from SPLOST, Shuler said. Currently, general fund monies have been allocated for that truck in the 2009 capital spending plan.

And Shuler says it is not unusual for departments’ budget requests to be cut, even in budget years when there is more money available than in the fiscal year 2009 budget.

"There’s always more capital requested than we can fund," Shuler said. "We just have to balance it out based on how much money we have from our main sources, which are SPLOST and general fund reserves."

"We’re trying to identify the greatest need," Shuler said.



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