City proposes $106M budget

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 26, 2016

By Tyler H. Jones

LaGRANGE — The mayor and City Council this week reviewed the city’s annual budget, which cuts expenses by about 3.5 percent, but remains balanced and levies no city property taxes.

The budget estimates city revenues, primarily from utility sales, will drop 5.5 percent from $113.8 million last cycle to $107.5 in the upcoming fiscal year. If approved by Council on June 28, the budget would have $106 million in expenses, compared to $110 million last cycle.

The city’s general fund accounts for about a quarter of the city’s expenditures and covers salaries in all departments, supplies, appropriations to local nonprofits and other costs. About $26.3 million is expected to be raised for the general fund, primarily through transfers from utility revenues, local-option sales tax and taxes on insurance premiums, alcohol and hotels.

The city is expected to spend about $26.2 million from the general fund, with 79 percent of that on employee salaries, followed by 10 percent on contract services, which includes vehicle repairs, building maintenance and insurance.

Appropriations to agencies

Under the budget, Council would contribute nearly $1.4 million of the general fund across more than 30 local nonprofits, including the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, LaGrange Art Museum and Ark Refuge, a homeless ministry.

About $671,700 of the about $1.4 million is actually discretionary. Nearly $540,000 must go to the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce to advertise the area, $100,000 to the Troup County Archives for record keeping, and the balance is paid to local and regional planning nonprofits. The city is obliged to pay those funds.

One of biggest winners in the appropriations category includes the Troup County District Attorney’s office, which for the first time will receive $65,000 to hire an additional prosecutor to oversee gang-related cases originating in LaGrange.

Ark Refuge homeless ministry, which received $7,500 from the city in the last budget cycle, would see a spike to $35,000 under the proposed budget. The additional funds would help cover utility costs at the mission’s homeless shelter. LaGrange Public Safety Chief Lou Dekmar championed the agency, telling Council it has helped the police department find alternatives to incarceration for some individuals, thus saving taxpayer money. Ark Refuge originally requested $42,000, but Council ultimately looked at the nonprofit’s utility bills and opted to consider a lower request.

Out this year is the Emmaus Shelter, which received $10,000 from the city in the past two budget cycles, but requested nearly $40,000 this cycle. Council, after consideration, has proposed providing the shelter with no funding for fiscal year 2017. The about-face comes after council members’ concerns about the shelter’s management and unauthorized use of its day center on Greenville Street as an overnight shelter.

Council aims to increase funding to LaGrange Personal Aid by $5,000 to a total of $35,000. The organization provides low-income residents with help paying utilities and other services. The city plans to continue its $30,000 annual commitment to Harmony House, a shelter for domestically abused women, and restored funding to Keep Troup Beautiful for the first time since 2014, proposing to grant the anti-litter group $15,000.

Tyler H. Jones is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.