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Columbus hashes out budget; raises planned for city employees

 

Garthia Elena Burnett

 

The Columbus City Council doesn''t want to raise taxes this year, and they are working out a series of cuts to help them meet that goal. 

 

On the chopping block are overtime, newly created positions, equipment purchases and appropriations to agencies such as the United Way and Main Street Columbus Inc. 

 

Councilmen Bill Gavin, Charlie Box and Fred Stewart met for a budget work session Thursday afternoon, along with Columbus Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong and Chief Financial Officer Mike Bernsen, to balance the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. 

 

To date, the council has cut planned expenditures to $24.13 million, but revenues are projected at $22.55 million, leaving the city with another $1.58 million to slash from the budget before they adopt it, by Sept. 15. 

 

The working budget includes 3-percent raises for all city employees. Employees also have lower deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses on insurance to look forward to. 

 

Initially, Box, Ward 3 city councilman, wondered if across-the-board raises would be feasible, given the tight budget. 

 

"I know these guys need a raise, but it''s treacherous times," Box said. 

 

"We need to save some money," Gavin, Ward 6 councilman, agreed. 

 

Soon, Box turned his attention to overtime, which was budgeted at $760,000. Cutting that figure by 20 percent would slash $152,000 from the budget, he noted. 

 

"It''s got to be managed is what it amounts to," Box said, suggesting each department cut their overtime budget by 20 percent. 

 

Gavin also suggested asking department heads to offer a monthly report on overtime and why the additional hours were needed. 

 

Last year, some city employees made up to $36,000 just in overtime pay. The city paid a total of $500,911 in overtime last year, the bulk of which went to the Columbus Police Department. 

 

Council members said police leadership attributed the overtime mainly to working festivals and special events. 

 

Gavin proposed limiting hours and manpower for such events, asking organizers to pay their costs for additional time and officers or hire private security. 

 

The cut in overtime paired with halting equipment purchases (a savings of $544,000), seven new hires (a savings of $166,000), not funding the Lowndes County Health Department, for which the state and Lowndes County are responsible (a $40,000 savings), and keeping appropriations at the 2011 levels (a $220,000 savings), would save the city $1.12 million. 

 

And contrary to popular belief, Box said, "The city is not broke." 

 

He said the city is fiscally sound and has done a good job of managing its funds.

 

 

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