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Gainesville's budget in the black, despite sales tax slump

POSTED: September 2, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Gainesville ended fiscal year 2008 with money to spare, but sales tax revenues were down over last year, the city’s chief financial officer said Thursday.

Melody Marlowe told the council she estimates the city ended the fiscal year in June with a surplus of $2.5 million, even though revenues from sales taxes were down.

Despite collecting $100,000 more in sales tax revenue than the $5.7 million budgeted from July 2007 through June, sales tax revenues were $37,000 lower than in fiscal year 2007, she said.

"We didn’t quite meet the previous year’s revenue, but we did meet budget by a little more than 2 percent," Marlowe said.

The city only received 62 percent of the revenue budgeted from building permits and zoning fees. Marlowe and City Manager Bryan Shuler told the council to expect revenue from building permits and zoning fees to remain low in the coming months.

"That’s probably the most challenging number. ... The permit fees are just flat, like zero," Shuler said.

Revenue from franchise taxes was the city budget’s "lifesaver this year," and the city collected about $1 million more than the $3.54 million budgeted in franchise tax revenues, Marlowe said.

The extra revenue mostly can be attributed to audits of utility companies operating within the city, which resulted in an extra $800,000 from Georgia Power Co.

The city may have had a larger surplus at the end of the fiscal year, but the two departments with the biggest budgets, police and fire, did not have the surplus they have had in previous years.

"Usually, that’s where the majority of our surplus comes from is those two large departments," Marlowe said.

Both departments faced higher fuel costs in the last months of the fiscal year. Though they did not exceed overall budgets, each department spent more than anticipated on fuel and energy costs, Marlowe said.

The police department also spent about $55,000 more than it had budgeted for jail fees.

Shuler said that some of that increase could be attributed to the longer incarceration periods for illegal immigrants who are arrested in the city and have to wait on Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The city has to budget to pay more than $300,000 in jail fees each year, and only half of that is paid by the people arrested, Shuler said.

"It’s an issue that I think in our discussions with the county we need to talk about," Shuler said. "There are many cities that pay no jail fees other than the fine add-on that’s for jails, which we collect ... but we pay on top of that a fee to the county jail."

Despite some unexpected expenses, the city still ended the fiscal year spending $1.4 million less than the $32.7 million it had planned to spend, Marlowe said.

The extra money is a good thing to have in a time when economic forecasts are dim, City Councilman George Wangemann said.

"I think we ought to just move cautiously forward, and see that we retain a significant reserve right now," Wangemann said.



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