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Gainesville budget proposal includes no property tax increase
City Council to vote on proposal in May
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Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett has recommended no property tax increases as part of a $30.76 million spending plan for the 2016 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Facing rising health care expenses and only slight increases in tax revenue, the general fund budget is $400,000 greater than the current fiscal year.

The City Council expressed satisfaction with the proposed budget, unveiled during a work session Thursday morning, and will vote on whether to formally adopt it in May.

“Great budget ...,” said Mayor Danny Dunagan. “No tax increases is what we like to hear.”

Councilman Bob Hamrick said he was glad to be able to provide the same or greater levels of service next fiscal year without raising property taxes.

The budget includes $800,000 for employee salary and merit increases. The council will receive the results of a pay study later this year and then determine how to apply such raises. 

The budget also calls for the use of $2 million in reserves, out of a $2.3 million fund balance, for capital improvements, including the purchase of equipment, network and software updates and
beautification programs.

The city will benefit from the recent passage of a 1 percent sales tax, SPLOST VII, to fund additional capital projects in the coming years.

Gainesville is projected to receive more than $25 million over the next five fiscal years to fund new fire stations, a youth sports complex, parks improvements and upgrades to roads, bridges and stormwater infrastructure.

SPLOST VII money will also support countywide projects with big benefits in Gainesville, including renovations to the Senior Life Center and main library branch.

Meanwhile, about $2.3 million is budgeted to pay down debt in the next fiscal year.

The city’s general obligation debt is about $18.8 million and includes payments owed on the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center, downtown parking deck and lease payments on the city’s jail after the Corrections Corp. of America vacated the facility a few years ago.

Public safety spending accounts for 51 percent of the general fund budget. 

Fire department funding will rise to $6.84 million from $6.75 million, a 1.4 percent increase.

Chief Jerome Yarbrough told the City Council earlier this year that his goals include adding personnel, building a new fire station and increasing commercial business inspections.

Yarbrough also said he wants to expand water rescue training, which can provide firefighters another avenue, Lake Lanier, by which to access residences.

The police department will grow to $8.98 million from $8.93 million, just a 0.6 percent increase.

Chief Carol Martin has said the department now has a renewed commitment to educating the public, training officers and analyzing crime trends.

Priorities for next year include relieving traffic congestion by reducing accidents and responding more promptly to them and continuing to address property crimes.

Martin said the department will also seek re-accreditation with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies this year.

General fund revenues are projected to rise just 0.7 percent, while total department expenditures are estimated to grow 4.6 percent.

General fund property tax revenues are projected to increase 2 percent.

All other taxes will grow an estimated 5.3 percent.

Property taxes account for 19 percent of the city’s general fund budget, with sales taxes at 15 percent and other taxes accounting for 17 percent.

Padgett said a growing concern is the continued rise of health care costs.

Health care claims have grown to $6.86 million from $3.62 million in the 2011 fiscal year.

Total employee benefits, including health, life, vision, dental and disability insurance, will cost an estimated $10.1 million in the next fiscal year, up from about $9.3 million this year.

Padgett said he expects health insurance premiums to increase in January 2016.

“The city will pick up the majority or possibly all,” he told The Times. “It will depend on the premium renewal rates we get in the fall.”

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