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Hogansville gives first pass at budget

HOGANSVILLE — City Council members on Thursday reviewed the proposed 2016-2017 budget with some fireworks as the mayor questioned staff’s rationale on an expected 90 percent increase in police revenues from fines and forfeitures.

The proposed budget shows general fund revenue of $2,672,121 to $2,663,054 in expenses. The police department accounts for the majority of the city’s spending at about $1.49 million.

During council’s review Thursday, Mayor Bill Stankiewicz pointed out that the budget proposes the department will bring in $640,000 in fines and forfeitures, when the actual amount collected by the end of this fiscal year is estimated to be about $336,000.

“I submit that if you go over the entire city and find every dirty license plate like they do in Grantville, you wouldn’t be able to come up with that kind of money,” he said.

City Manager James Woods said the reason revenue has been down the past two years in fines was due to a previous solicitor who didn’t prosecute many of the citations issued. That decreased morale among the officers, who in turn wrote fewer citations because they felt the offenders wouldn’t be prosecuted, Woods said.

The department is also proposing a restructuring where it will promote four officers to become sergeants so a sergeant will go out on patrol with two officers each shift. Currently, there are two officers on patrol during each shift.

The restructuring will allow for more leadership while putting an additional person on the street, said Police Chief Brian Harr. The plan would still call for increasing the department by about two people.

That extra body per shift also will allow officers to do more to enforce the law and likely mean more citations, but Harr said his priority will still be community policing and not just issuing fines to increase revenue. He said he has no intention of patrolling the interstate to increase citations.

Stankiewicz felt it was a good plan, but still said it was too big a jump to expect an additional $300,000 in revenue next year. He, Harr, Woods and other staff went back and forth on the issue for more than two hours.

Councilman Jimmy Norred also raised concerns about the estimate and the overall formula staff used to project costs and revenue. He felt the numbers didn’t always seem to take into account the “historical data” from previous budgets.

City staff said for the fines estimate, they took the number of officers working per day — six if the restructuring plan goes through — and estimated if each wrote two tickets every day. The minimum fine for a ticket is $277, Harr said. Staff extrapolated the amount of that many fines over a year, and subtracted some for the potential cases that may not be prosecuted or defendants who skip court.

Staff felt the goal was obtainable, but Stankiewicz still felt the numbers were too far fetched.

Council will host two budget hearings Monday: 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. at City Hall, 301 E. Main St. The 7 p.m. hearing will be followed by council’s regular meeting. City Council is expected to vote on adopting the budget during a special meeting June 30 at 5 p.m., also at City Hall.

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By Matthew Strother

mstrother@civitasmedia.com

Matthew Strother is the editor of LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2153.