Proposed Marietta budget has no tax hike
by Hilary Butschek
May 28, 2014 04:00 AM | 2689 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MARIETTA — City Manager Bill Bruton’s recommended fiscal 2015 budget includes no tax increases or power rate hikes.

The budget year, which runs from July 1 to June 30, 2015, also allows for a 3 percent employee raise.

The City Council’s Finance Committee will review Bruton’s budget Wednesday. The budget is scheduled to be voted on by the City Council on June 11.

The proposed budget balances revenues and expenses at $348.2 million for fiscal 2015 fiscal year, an increase of $58.4 million, or 20 percent, over the existing budget.

The majority of the increase comes from the $68 million redevelopment bond voters passed in the November 2013 election.

“We’re very pleased to have a budget which is balanced and doesn’t require additional revenue from any increases, and we’re not looking at increases in any area, so not just taxes, but fees and the rest also would stay the same,” Bruton said.

City Councilman Stuart Fleming said he is proud to be able to maintain what the city offers without asking any more of its residents.

“We continue to offer a great value and great services without tax increases,” Fleming said.

The budget proposes an increase in city employees’ salaries. Last year’s budget granted the employees a 2 percent raise, and this year’s would allow for a 3 percent raise beginning in January 2015.

The budget funds 792.5 employees, the same as in fiscal 2014’s budget.

“We’ll wait until the January time period, and we’ll see how our revenue’s doing,” Bruton said. “And if we’re doing fine on the revenue side, then we would go ahead give those salary increases.”

Fleming said city employees deserve the increase in pay.

“I think our employees continue to demonstrate why they are some of the best in the business,” Fleming said. “I have no concerns with giving the employees a raise.”

Every year, the City Council transfers millions from the city-owned utility — the Marietta Board of Lights and Water — to its general fund. That amount remains under discussion.

Critics of the transfer complain that by taking the utility’s revenues, it causes the utility to end up raising rates on customers, although Bruton said the transfer helps keep property taxes down.

Last year, the city received $11.5 million from the power and electric company, and this year, Mayor Steve Tumlin, who chairs the utility board, suggested the amount be lowered to $10.5 million.

The finance committee is suggesting an $11 million transfer, said Fleming, who chairs the committee.

“I think there is some acknowledgment by some of the committee that there is an option to tighten the belt of the city and not transfer as much as there has been historically,” Fleming said. “I support the discussion.”

The transfer amount will not be finalized until after it is presented to the City Council.

“They’re still going to have discussions with the Board of Lights and Water as far as what the final number is going to be,” Bruton said, “and the budget could change depending on what the final number is going to be.”

The general fund, which includes the revenues and expenses of such city services as Marietta Police and Marietta Fire, totals to $50.6 million, which is an increase of $1.7 million, or 3.5 percent, from last year. Bruton said the increase is from rising tourism revenue.

Other smaller sources of inflow into the general fund are real estate taxes, car taxes and revenue from business licenses building permits, Bruton said. These small increases represent general growth in the Marietta economy, a sign of a comeback from the recession.

“I am pleased with the fact that we have been able to make it through the recession, and now it looks like the economy is coming back at a slow pace,” Bruton said, “but the revenue to the city is starting to increase.”

One remnant of the budget cuts the city implemented during the recession is an aging fleet of equipment and city police cars and fire trucks that need more maintenance than they have in the past.

“Ever since the recession, we’ve had to cut back on our capital expenditures, which is basically all the heavy equipment and vehicles we have in the city,” Bruton said. “We have the vehicles being used longer.”

Bruton said the city’s capital expenditure allowance from the budget each year used to be $1.5 million before 2009, but this year it is $300,000.

It is impossible to replace the larger equipment with this budget, he said, because one ladder fire truck can cost about $1 million. But, he said the city departments have done well to save money each year since the downturn.

The general fund also includes a reserve of $15.2 million to be used in case of a catastrophe, a surprise downturn in the economy or a large city project, Bruton said, but Marietta rarely has to use that reserved money.

The Marietta Police Department’s budget would rise from $14.3 million in 2014 to $14.73 million in 2015, an increase of $430,000. Also, the Marietta Fire Department’s budget would rise from $11.38 million in 2014 to $11.76 million in 2015, an increase of $380,000, Bruton said.

The police force of 139 sworn officers and the fire department made up of 132 firefighters would both stay the same size under his proposal.

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