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City council to adopt 2019 budget Thursday with slight tax increase

By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — The Americus mayor and city council are scheduled to adopt the 2019 budget during the regular monthly meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday. The last of three public hearings on the proposed budget will be held prior to the vote. The 2019 budget reflects a .40 percent raise in property taxes. Utilities will remain the same. The proposed $32.3 million budget is approximately $476,164 more than 2018, due to increases in salaries and benefits for employees.
At the agenda setting session of Dec. 13, Diadra Powell, the city’s financial director, gave highlights of the proposed budget to mayor and council, including the following information.
• The 2019 proposed budget totals approximately $32.3 million, which is approximately $476,164 more than 2018. The increase is related to salary and benefits as well as capital items.
• The salaries account for 21 percent of the total of all expenditures in the 2019 proposed budget. There is 2.5 percent increase in salaries as well as equity pay adjustments budgeted; however, there is not a merit increase budgeted for 2019.
• Benefits such as insurance, social security, retirement, and worker’s compensation account for 8 percent of the budget.
• The city’s health insurance cost continues to decline since implementing a Wellness Program and actively looking at ways to become healthier.
• One additional city employee is proposed for the 2019 budget as well as the elimination of two part-time positions. The plan includes 186 positions which includes 172 full-time, seven elected officials and seven part-time positions. Grounds & Maintenance has one additional employee and Municipal Court eliminated two bailiff positions.
• Capital Outlay projects for non-enterprise funds account for 16 percent of the projected expenditures for 2019. This includes the SPLOST-funded projects identified in the 2014 SPLOST referendum. The capital outlay also includes street improvements funded by TSPLOST and LMIG grant program funds.
• Other operating expenses (excluding salaries, benefits and capital projects) account for 55 percent of the projected expenditures for 2019. These include the cost of utility operations, materials, supplies, utilities, contract services, and repair and maintenance for vehicles, equipment, etc.
Regarding utility rates in the proposed budget:
• The base rate for water is projected to remain the same. The usage rate remains the same at $2.32 per 100 cubic feet.
• The base rate for sewer is projected to remain the same; however, the methodology of billing for sewer services changed in 2016. The approved method beginning in 2016 is to bill sewer based on the actual water consumption each month.
• The rates for garbage service will increase 3 percent for 2019, for both commercial dumpster and residential hobo services. Landfill post-closure costs are estimated to be $348,000 in 2019, which is an increase from 2018 of $268,000 based on Sumter County estimates for required maintenance. The budget includes $3.50 per user to offset the landfill requirements for 2019.
• Gas rates for 2019 will be market price plus the existing margin. There is not a margin increase planned.
• No increase in storm water rates is planned.
Regarding property taxes:
• As a result of the 2019 budget numbers, the millage rate is projected to increase to 11.32 from a rate of 10.92 in 2018.
Regarding the city’s retirement funding:
• Contributions to the GMA administered Retirement System have gradually decreased since 2015.
• The retirement plan fell short in 2009 as a result of the unprecedented decline in the investment markets. As markets rebound, the City’s contributions are returning to normal levels with a slight decline in 2019. The contributions will decrease from 10.54 percent to 10 percent.
The 2019 budget also includes $785,484 for the support of various community entities:
• Sumter Humane Society $85,000
• One Sumter Foundation $50,000
• Americus Arts Council $2,000
• Lake Blackshear Regional Library $82,000
• Americus-Sumter County Airport Authority $17,000
• Americus-Sumter County Payroll Development Authority $40,000
• Tourism $202,758 (funded mostly by the hotel-motel tax revenues)
• Main Street $247,384

Also at Thursday’s meeting, the mayor and council will consider the following items in the consent agenda.
• Approval the 2019 LMIG road paving recommendations: 17th Green, Woodcrest Court, and Bell Street (from Oak Avenue to Bessie Mays Circle).
• Approve a property tax write down in the amount of $20,203.89, which Powell says represents .59 percent of the property tax revenues for 2011. She said that $10,219 of the write downs are attributed to deceased property owners. Council member Lou Chase, upon examining the list, said “some are not deceased but are living well. Mayor Barry Blount commented that he saw businesses still operating that owe property taxes. “If a business owes, they shouldn’t get a business license,” he said.
• Approve a utilities bill write down. Powell told the mayor and council that some of these were deceased persons, but some will be sent to a collections agency.
There are also several other items to be decided such as the alcohol beverage renewal list, appointment of the legal organ, appointment of the Municipal Court judge, election of a mayor pro tem, etc.