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Gainesville lays off six employees; tax hike may be next
City officials work to balance budget for new fiscal year
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Despite reducing the city’s work force and its spending, Gainesville City Council likely will have to raise property tax rates in June to keep the city budget afloat.

In a presentation of the final spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1, City Manager Kip Padgett said Thursday six city employees were laid off this week to help the city close a $1.5 million gap between expenses and projected revenues.

The layoffs were part of a $700,000 reduction in spending for the coming fiscal year.

But even with the staff cuts, the city will need a tax increase, city officials have said.

In three separate public hearings in June, the City Council will consider a tax increase for property owners that equates to an extra $26 annually for the owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000.

The city taxes properties based on 100 percent of the property’s assessed value, minus any exemptions.

The property increase is expected to bring in about $884,000 that city officials say they need to pay for new firefighters acquired through a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

While the federal grant paid for the hiring and initial training of the firefighters, the city must take on the costs of the new firefighters over a five-year period. The grant also prohibits firefighters from being furloughed and any reduction of the fire department budget.

While council members asked Fire Chief Jon Canada questions about the need for the new firefighters, none openly objected to the proposed tax increase Thursday.

“I think at one time we had anticipated a much higher millage rate increase than it came out to in the end,” Councilman George Wangemann said.

Despite the new hires, Padgett told council members the $25.5 million budget he presented Thursday was still 1.4 percent smaller than the budget approved last year.

The budget relies less on money from sales tax and reflects a decrease in personnel.

The city’s work force has been reduced by 10 percent since fiscal 2009, which began July 2008, Padgett said.

Much of the work force reduction has been due to employees leaving on their own, but between 20 and 25 people have been laid off.

“To be honest with you, council, we’re about to the point where we can’t do any more layoffs,” Padgett said.

This week’s layoffs include two civilian employees of the police department, an inspector in the community development department, an employee of the Georgia Mountains Center, an employee of the city’s municipal court and one in the information technology division.

The employees came from departments whose workload was directly affected by the economy, Padgett said.

“We’re just trying to streamline the way we’re doing things,” he said.

The workers were released from their jobs Tuesday because most had several weeks of vacation accrued that must be used before the next fiscal year begins July 1, Padgett said.

The city manager said Tuesday’s layoffs were necessary to help the city close its budget gap. The other option was to cut city operating costs, which already have been reduced.

“You can’t cut operations where you can’t do your job,” Padgett said.