The as-yet-unapproved budget, totaling $23,737,464, calls for increased sewage and gas usage rates for city residents, but leaves the current city property tax (millage) rate alone at 2.99 mils. The hikes, although bound to be unpopular, are necessary in order for the city to maintain its level of service.
“If we do not want to do fee increases, then we’re at the point of looking at what programs we want to cut,” said city manager Frank Etheridge.
The new budget, Etheridge said, has a built-in expectation of costs that are going to raise. It also has extremely conservative estimates of the city’s revenues for next year. In contrast, last year’s over-estimations by former city manager Johnny Arnold helped contribute to some of the shortfalls the city is now suffering.
Thanks to the mild winter of 2011-12, the city took in approximately $800,000 less in electricity and gas utility payments than Arnold’s budget had estimated.
“If you look at what MGAG (Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia) estimated for gas last year, my predecessor added close to half a million dollars to that,” said Etheridge.
Etheridge has budgeted the city in anticipation of another mild winter and minimal revenues, just in case.
In addition to discussing the fee increases and utility estimates, the council took a hard look at some of its biggest expenditures, including the golf course, which seems to continue hemorrhaging money no matter what tactics the council takes.
One of the central issues was the question of whether raising the LaFayette golf course fees would produce the desired result – making the course profitable, or at least allowing it to break even. Fees have been increased already for many years running, with membership rates and rounds played steadily decreasing.
LaFayette native and avid golf player Ken Maples Jr. spoke up against the proposed increases, arguing that they will drive away players and lose even more money for the course. The way to make the course thrive, he said, is to concentrate on building more membership through initiatives and membership drives, reinstating the cart card program and making the golf course more family-friendly. A nearby competing golf course, which Maples claims is of much poorer quality to play, has grown from zero to more than 300 members in the past year alone, thanks to its lower prices and family membership packages. Maples wishes that LaFayette would follow its example and draw business back to the city.
The budget will be heard for a final time and adopted by the city council Friday morning, Sept. 28, at 8 a.m. The city’s 2013 budget year begins Oct. 1.