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No tax increase in proposed Gainesville budget
Plans include more money for police, less for fire department, community service center
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Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett has proposed a $30.3 million general fund budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which begins July 1, and is not recommending any tax increases.

The current fiscal year’s budget is about $29.8 million. 

“I think we’re in a good place,” Padgett told City Council as he unveiled the proposed budget Thursday morning during a work session. 

The council will hold a public hearing on the budget and set the millage rate for the coming year when it meets June 3. The budget will be formally adopted June 17. 

Public safety costs once again account for better than 50 percent of the budget. 

If approved, the police department will see its funding increase by a little more than $100,000, topping out at about $8.82 million. The fire department will see a $35,000 drop in funding, with a proposed budget of about $6.67 million. 

As it currently stands, the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, which operates the Senior Life Center, Meals on Wheels and Hall Area Transit, stands to lose the most in funding. The proposed budget calls for about $2.8 million in funding, down from $4.66 million this year. 

Gainesville is proposing to spend about $562,500 in general fund revenues on the center, down from about $596,000 this year. 

The biggest single dropoff in the center’s budget stems from a reduction in capital funding, which totaled about $1.8 million this current year and was used to purchase new public transit buses. 

The center also relies on federal and state grants and subsidies, but sequestration dealt a severe blow in the last year. Funding from these sources is cut in half in the new budget, falling to about $1.2 million. 

“Last year (sequestration) was pretty devastating,” Director Phillippa Lewis Moss said. “While we were able to easily absorb the first round (of cuts), the second round knocked us off our feet.” 

Moss, however, said that these funding sources could be boosted over the course of the 2015 fiscal year to support operations costs. 

“We should start to see some relief,” she said.

Meanwhile, most general fund departments are seeing their budgets remain on par with this year’s funding. 

The proposed budget benefits from a modest increase in property tax revenue, Padgett said, as well as the city’s 95 percent collection rate on these revenues. 

Other tax revenues remain flat year over year, while nontax revenues saw a slight decrease, largely as a result of the loss of lease payments on the city’s jail after the Corrections Corp. of America vacated the facility on Main Street. 

Padgett said upkeep of the jail costs between $120,000 and $150,000 annually. He added that the city has the funds to pay the bond debt on the property through the 2015 calendar year, but a new funding source will need to be found to make payments thereafter. 

The general obligation debt on the jail totals about $7 million. The city’s total debt entering the new fiscal year, which includes payments owed on the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center and downtown parking deck, is $19.9 million. 

Padgett has proposed transferring $3 million in fund balance to pay for capital improvement costs rather than operating expenses. Additionally, $325,000 will be transferred from the city’s hotel/motel tax fund to support capital costs. 

In total, Padgett has budgeted about $5.16 million for capital projects next year, including $1.3 million for road and stormwater upgrades, and $500,000 to implement the city’s transportation plan. 

Health care premiums for city employees continue to rise, but Padgett said the city would absorb these costs rather than pass them on to workers. Total employee benefits are projected to cost about $9.2 million next year, up from about $7.52 million. 

Padgett also is proposing pay raises for workers of up to 5 percent. He said city officials would conduct performance reviews to determine the merit increases, which were frozen during the recession. 

Council members said they looked forward to digging through the budget and identifying areas of concern. Anything and everything is on the table, and funding for departments can change significantly. But initial impressions were positive. 

“I’m pleased with (the budget),” Councilman Sam Couvillon said. “Specifically, I’m happy that we are able to give merit raises.”

Councilman George Wangemann said he did have some concerns about funding for public safety services given its share of the budget, but all in all he thinks the public will respond well to what has been proposed. 

“Our citizens do appreciate a stable millage rate,” he said. “So knowing that we’re going to hold the line on taxes is a positive thing for most people.”