Oneonta begins preliminary 2017 budget discussion

During a public work session held Aug. 30, the Oneonta City Council began talks on its 2017 budget. Alabama municipal budgets should be in place for the beginning of the state’s Oct. 1 fiscal year.

Distributing an informational packet reviewing the past six budgets and the anticipated current 2016 fiscal year amounts, city manager/economic development officer Ed Lowe expressed several concerns. He said his greatest concern was the more than $200,000 drop in general capital outlay funds projected at $150,000. The 2016 estimated expenditure of $368,000 reflects a drop of over $200,000 from 2015 and a more significant drop from the 2014 high of $681,000. [Figures throughout this article are rounded to the nearest thousand.]

He also spoke of his concern over increasing repair and maintenance costs likely to result from reduced capital outlay and the rising cost of employee (health) insurance costs. The 2017 budget balances at just under $7,823,000. He revealed it does not include any pay raises. After correction for a keying error, the 2016 budget shows a very slight ($500) surplus as projected.

The plan lists the top projected revenue sources (chosen at a $200,000 cutoff) as sales tax ($4.4 million), business licenses ($935,000), ad valorem – real property – taxes ($400,000), sanitation collection fees ($370,000), school board reimbursement ($313,000), municipal court fees ($267,000), and use tax ($200,000). It reflects the top six expenditures (from $500,000 up) as police department ($1.484 million), general government ($1.457 million), fire department $1.254 million), debt service ($830,000), street department ($798,000), and park and recreation ($587,000).

All six current council members, newly elected councilors Nathaniel Butler and Richard Phillips, along with several city employees, other interested residents, and the press attended the 5:30 p.m. session. Several raised questions or offered comments.

Councilor Tonya Rogers addressed two questions dealing with school reimbursements to the city. She asked specifically whether or not the school reimbursements include gas, oil, and maintenance charges for police vehicles used for traffic control or other events at the school and of electricity use for city park lights during school recreational events.

On the latter, public safety director/administrator Brandon Horton assured her that is covered under school recreational maintenance. As for the former, Lowe and councilor Hal Blackwood held it is covered through general depreciation figures.

The proposed plan allocates an estimated $435,000 to the school board but also reflects the school reimbursing the city $313,000 for bond payments. From those budget figures, the schools would net $122,000 from the city.

Rogers later asked of the county’s support for the Blount County-Oneonta Chamber of Commerce. Lowe told her the county budgets $45,000 to the chamber compared to the city’s $35,000. Councilman Mark Gargus noted some chambers operate on membership fees, which Phillips indicated provide only a small portion of the chamber’s revenue. Lowe explained the city has a contract with the chamber for services it provides.

In questioning the budgeting of city funds to assist state probation needs in the county, councilor Tim McNair noted his feeling the state should “step up” and meet that obligation. Some responded the state has not; McNair offered that “we have representatives” who could press for that. He also returned to past statements saying he would like to have agencies such as the chamber and other non-governmental groups report periodically to the council their services for Oneonta.

The group agreed to meet again at 5 p.m. on Sep. 14 for another public hearing.