Hoschton holds next budget hearing on Nov. 29

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In her first meeting as acting mayor, Theresa Kenerly prayed that God would help the city to be the best city it can be. She asked for wisdom to make the right decisions.

At the Nov. 1 work session, the council, with Post 1 Sandie Romer and Post 4 David Poteet absent, conducted its first budget hearing during which City Administrator Cindy George said efforts were being made to get to a balanced budget.

A $200,000 transfer from the General Fund, hasn’t been able to yet overcome the city’s $477,884.44 debt payments.

Hoschton has two Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority (GEFA) loans, one with a payment of $215,976 and the other of $248,908.44. The remaining debt is $13,000 bond interest.

The Water and Sewer Revenue Fund is anticipated to generate $798,370.64, far lower than the city expected to be receiving. However, the economic downturn meant the city has not been able to collect tap fees and water and sewer usage fees to recoup its investment in infrastructure improvements.

Hoschton expects to collect $549,996 in water and sewer sales, and will pay an estimated $166,816.80 to the Jackson County Water & Sewerage Authority for water for customers. The cost of wholesale water which Hoschton pays is remaining the same.

An increase in water and sewer fees are figured into the budget but the revenues are still short of where the city needs to be to get out of the red in the water and sewer fund. Last year, the city opted not to put an across-the-board rate hike in place but changed its base rate.

There had been a projection that a 4 percent to 6 percent increase would be needed, however, a 10-percent increase would bring the budget closer to the black. Because water usage was

lower than projected, last year’s enacted increase did not generate as much additional revenue as originally thought.

Hoschton contracts with the authority for service in the amount of $123,144 for the 2013 year. The contract amount has seen an increase.

Another expenditure projected in the budget is a new water line on Maddox Road which would provide another connection to the Bear Creek transmission line. That new line would likely become the primary connection as it would provide enhanced water pressure for customers.

The existing Jackson Trail Road line will become the secondary, or backup, connection.

A $50,000 earmark for the tank project was not used last year and the cost estimate for the work has since risen to an estimated $110,000. The council discussed the possibility of setting aside funds another year and perhaps having money on hand to tackle the project.

Another capital project has also been deferred. Replacement of windows in city hall could become a safety issue and price estimates are being collected by Councilman Jim Cleveland, who said the project may require a phase-in effort.

Efforts to seek more cost-effective ways of addressing problems found the city getting a $158,000 project tackled for $54,000, thanks to Cleveland’s suggestion on a gravity flow lift station option whether capacity existed rather than replacement of a failing old system.

The $80,000 savings on that project and George’s diligence in keeping the line on spending and finding other savings options have resulted in what the council called a great job.

City hall will likely be replacing its utility billing software as the current system is described by a consultant as “barely adequate.” George said there will be no startup cost and a monthly fee which will assist in providing needed backup and better data management.

What the city is now using is free, but a council member noted that you get what you pay for.

Paying bills is one concern on the horizon if the debt isn’t brought under control. Cleveland asked if the city was nearing the time when the decision must be made to determine who is to eb paid when bills come in.

The council will be studying the budget proposal in an effort to find additional means of trimming expenses. Dues and subscriptions of $3,915 will be examined but the $5,000 permit fee for the Department of Natural Resources is an unfunded federal mandate that is necessary for water system operation, Attorney Thomas Mitchell noted.

“If GEFA wants their money back, someone will have to forego theirs,” Cleveland commented.

There are some bright spots in the budget planning process. Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) revenues are up.

The next budget hearing will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 29.

At the council’s brief Monday regular session, the consent agenda, which included authorization for the city attorney to proceed with a proposed charter change to reflect the city’s boundaries and approval of a request for an April wedding in the grassed area adjacent to Little Hootie’s, was approved.