By Ashley M. Casey
Fulton Mayor Ronald L. Woodward Sr. announced Tuesday the Fulton Common Council has worked out a preliminary budget for 2014.
The $16,279,089 budget includes a 27 percent tax rate increase and elimination of city employees.
The budget in 2013 is $15,452,097. The tax rate is $17.06 per $1,000 of assessed value.and tax He stressed many changes are still to come before a final budget is presented for a public hearing. The date for this public hearing will be announced later.
Under the current version of the budget, taxes would increase 27.864 percent, bringing the tax rate up to $21.78 per $1,000.
People owning an average house assessed at $60,000 would pay about $283 more in taxes in 2014 if this budget became the final budget.
But, Woodward said while taxes will definitely increase in 2014, this rate is by no means the final rate.
“The public has to realize that myself and the council members live here and pay property taxes,” the mayor said. “We don’t want to pay more either.”
The mayor and the Common Council held a budget workshop Dec. 7 to outline the 2014 budget. They found the city’s assessed value has decreased by more than $10 million, revenue is down $305,490, expenses are up $826,992 and there is no fund balance for the new year.
Of the increased expenses, $526,186 comes from health care benefits to city employees, most of them public safety workers.
“This is the biggest contributing factor to the depletion of the fund balance,” Woodward said of the skyrocketing health care costs.
Although the city has cut 10 percent of its workforce during Woodward’s term as mayor, more personnel cuts are to come.
“We will not get through this budget without staff reductions,” he said.
The mayor declined to discuss which positions were on the line.
“They’re very difficult (decisions). It’s a human thing. They’ve all got lives and have to make ends meet,” Woodward said. “Do you do what’s best for all people, or a few people?”
The impending renegotiation of the fire department, police department and CSEA union contracts will pose an additional financial challenge to Fulton in 2014. The contract negotiations are expected to take much of the year.
Fortunately for Fulton, the state’s Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments will be offering recommendations for the fiscally stressed city next year.
The public hearing date will be announced at a community development meeting 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17, at the Fulton Municipal building.
The Common Council is holding a budget workshop immediately after the community development meeting.