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City council gives unanimous support to budget

On Tuesday, the LaGrange City Council approved its annual budget, but council members may reconsider funding provided to local agencies at a later date.

The City of LaGrange made several changes to its budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, including changing how several regular expenses — such as funding for the archives and the district attorney’s office — were considered in the budget, shifting funds and personnel to account for the sale of commercial sanitation and budgeting for major projects that are expected to begin within the next year. However, the only change the council received comment on during the public budget hearing was the change in funding for outside agencies. 

In the upcoming budget year, the city limited funding for outside agencies to no more than $25,000 and no more than 25 percent of the agency’s budget. Several outside agencies who will receive less funding spoke against the change during the June 11 council meeting. None of the agencies who spoke at the meeting received additional funding in the approved budget. However, the city council did not rule out the possibility of approving more funding at a later date. 

The council also considered a funding request for Salvation Army that was not originally listed in the council’s preliminary budget. According to City Manager Meg Kelsey, the Salvation Army was not aware of the city’s budget process for agencies, and the charitable organization has not received funding from the city in recent years.

“They have requested $25,000 for property services and utilities for the upcoming budget year,” Kelsey said. “Their packet basically talks about service to 913 people during the calendar year 2018. They average about 20 calls per day for residents that need assistance. They provide assistance with food and clothing. They help with rent and utilities, and they have made some substantial utility payments for people in need to the City of LaGrange and help with summer camps. They pointed out to me just a few minutes ago that year to date, they have provided $6,291 for assistance to individuals in our community in need.”

The local Salvation Army underwent several structural changes last year. Local Salvation Army personnel hope those changes will make it easier for the charitable group to help people in need and coordinate with other community organizations.

“What we are trying to do is stop the revolving door, so with that being said, I sit down with them personally, go over their smart goals,” said Teara Harris on behalf of the Salvation Army. “What do they want to do? How do they want to get it accomplished? … Sometimes they don’t know about all of the programs that LaGrange has to offer or the State of Georgia, so it is about knowing where they can get help. We are trying to make them self-sufficient.”

The Salvation Army request does follow the city’s established guidelines, and none of the council members spoke against the request. However, because the council was only able to consider the request for the first time on Tuesday night, council members said any funding provided would require a budget amendment. The council may re-examine other allocations at that time as well.

“We could approve the ordinance as it has been prepared and adopt it tonight, and then at our next council meeting could have a formal budget amendment prepared that could address a multitude of issues if there are more than one,” Mayor Jim Thornton said. “I am a little bit reluctant to start amending line by line.”

Council Member Mark Mitchell noted that the council also has the authority to make budgetary amendments throughout the year, and it was unclear as of Tuesday when the proposed budgetary amendments would be considered by the council. Several council members did express a desire to review the requests from the June 11 meeting. The city council has not had a work session meeting since that time.

“We are sensitive to any needs throughout the community, and we will consider this carefully,” Council Member Tom Gore said. “But, we usually like to have a little time to think through the commitment on something like this, and it would be good — I think — if we could look at it in light of the other appeals that we have had, along with other decisions in the budget process at our next meeting or whenever it is convenient.”

Other items covered during the meeting included:

  • The city council unanimously voted to approve the adoption of policies and procedures and program design for CHIP Grant funds, as well as homeowners eligibility requirements for the grant.
  • The city council unanimously voted to approve the rezoning of property located at 710 Greenville Street from general industrial to neighborhood commercial.
  • The city council unanimously voted to modify the general commercial and general industrial zoning districts to include microdistillery as a permitted use, and in a related vote, the council unanimously voted to amend the alcoholic beverages code to define license and regulate microdistilleries.
  • The council voted to levy a Ad Valorem Tax of zero percent for 2019. The City of LaGrange has not charged a property tax since 1999 and operates entirely on funds from utility services.

The LaGrange City Council will meet again on July 11 at 11 a.m. at 200 Ridley Avenue and 5:30 p.m. at 208 Ridley Avenue.