Increasing fees, Balancing 2010 budget headline Tuesday's meetings

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Mayor Harold Perrin told the Jonesboro City Council Tuesday night that his administration has been working on the 2010 budget and expects to have a working document complete before the Thanksgiving holiday. Perrin told Region 8 News he expects sales tax revenues, which have been blamed for the city's financial problems, to remain stable in 2010. The city, which operates on a $54-million/year budget, is trying to trim $787,000 in deficits due to lagging sales tax revenues.

"We've asked our department heads to look at their budgets and look at any reduction of any expense that they could do," said Perrin. "If I tell you to look at expenses only and tell me exactly what you need to do your job, once we negotiate that and we get it to a level and then I come in and put the revenue on top of that. If there's a shortage, then you and I have got to sit down."

Before the full city council met Tuesday night, the Public Works Committee met in special session to review a series of ordinances. The agenda showed 11 different ordinances to be amended, seven of which included fee increases. Perrin said those increases would bring the city up to standards and help offset expenditures.

"When we looked at some of our fee structure, some of them haven't been changed in 25 to 30 years. We hope that we've increased our city services," said Darrel Dover, Ward 5 Councilman. "Basically we're just trying to make some adjustments to make it more current in today's worth."

Building permits and construction fees were among the increases, according to the agenda. The city has seen a decrease in the amount of money acquired from those funding sources in 2009.

"Our fee structure had not been changed in 25 to 30 years. Of course inflation and the cost of things have gone us drastically," said Dover. "Every so often you need to reevaluate your fees and make sure that we're covering our costs. One example, when we advertise for rezoning. It actually was costing us money because our fees weren't high enough for the advertisement."

"This is a new revenue stream that we have not had in the last 30 years and some of the things we've been providing the public, we're going to start making a minor charge for to try to cover costs," said Perrin.

Perrin told Region 8 News the primary reasons the city is in an economic slump are that the city isn't collecting enough money in sales tax revenues and the city has grown over the last four years.

"The biggest problem we've got this year is a double situation. Number one, loss of revenue on sales tax revenue is down, and also the other revenues in all the other areas are down because building has not been as fast as in 2008," said Perrin.

When asked if any city employees would be laid off to balance the budget, Perrin said the option remains on the table.

"We're going to look at every option we have. We're looking at revenues. We're looking at expenses. We're looking at capital improvements," said Perrin.

"The department heads have tried to make cuts to minimize any services and avoid any loss of jobs. We're going to do our best to see that that doesn't happen," said Dover.

Perrin said the city may reorganize various departments. He also said his office will look at employee salaries. Some positions where employees are retiring will not be filled, Perrin said.

"I think that's just the reality of the times. Unfortunately the economy across the country has slowed down, and we've been very fortunate in Jonesboro that we avoided that slowdown for a while, but actually it has hit," said Dover.

According to the city's 2008 budget, the city had $18-million in reserve funding at the start of the year and was forecasted to use $8-million.

"We've got those figures now. We're now working on our proposed projected revenue and we're looking at the state level, seeing what they're doing, what they project, and we're probably going to project a flat revenue for next year," said Perrin.

Once the 2010 operating budget is submitted to and approved by the city council, then Perrin said he would start working on a three-year budget plan.

"I'll immediately want to call my finance department together and we're going to start looking at 2011 and 2012. We're going to play the 'what if' scenarios. That's taking your cash and things and projecting it out to say, where are we going to be in 2011 and 2012," said Perrin.

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