Thursday, September 20, 2012
Many Rossville residents are asking tough budget questions in response to a proposed city property tax hike.
Due in part to citizen input, the city is taking next year’s budget back to the drawing board to look at possible cuts. Rossville City Council members met again Monday, Sept. 17 for a related work session. The budget is supposed to be passed by early October, but it may take the city longer since it must be passed in a regular council meeting. The Council, which holds its regular meetings the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m., isn’t scheduled to meet again until Oct. 8.
At one of the original budget hearings Sept. 10, resident Travis Poole submitted a list of 12 questions to council members. His questions — along with the loud applause his presentation garnered from the audience — helped convince the Council to table the budget at that time, with only Mayor Teddy Harris voting against the measure. Harris said he is confident with City Clerk Sherry Foster’s numbers.
He questioned the numbers relating to wages for council members, budgeted at $2,100 total, noting that there are only two more months in the fiscal year. Each council member receives $100 a month for their service. Conversely, he said administrative wages should be at least $116,918 but are only budgeted at $112,000.
Poole also noted that the city’s total contribution to employees’ retirement funds is on track to be exactly $1,000 less than budgeted this year, with the mayor receiving approximately double the rate of others, including police and fire personnel. He suggested implementing a 6-percent rate across the board.
“I’m suggesting we get the budget right, then cut,” said Poole. “I’m not suggesting we cut retirement. Retirement plans are designed for retirement. The likelihood of Social Security still being there is unlikely.”
He questioned why $5,000 was budgeted for all council members to attend this year’s National Convention when the budget’s already in the negative.
Councilwoman Cindy Bradshaw said for the price paid, she does not feel the National Convention is worth the expense.
“I can’t justify it,” she said at the meeting. “If we want to give pay raises to employees and save employees we’ve got to make sacrifices.”
Council members Joyce Wall and Hal Gray also agreed to not attend the convention. Wall said Harris and Foster should attend the convention instead of council members.
Poole also questioned the $10,200 budgeted in revenue for rental of a city building, saying that last year’s related revenue was half that amount. Similarly, he pointed to the $6,000 budgeted for building permit revenues, noting that for the past three years the actual amount has been less.
Another number he tackled is the $350,000 in expected revenue for fines and forfeitures, saying he feels it should be $280,933.
As originally proposed, next year’s budget calls for eliminating a $6.50 administrative fee tacked onto residents’ water bills, instead calling for a property tax increase. Former Councilman James Crane said he would like to leave the water bill fee in lieu of a tax hike.
“We are facing several evils,” said Councilman Rick Buff. “I took an oath to represent people in the city. Let’s leave the administrative fee alone. My proposal is to take money out of reserves. Let’s not go up on property taxes.”
Resident Skip Williams said that with the tax proposal, Rossville will have the highest taxes in the area. Resident Larry Rose Jr. said the city does not even have its own water and sewer supply, so he does not see what citizens are getting for their taxes.
Wall said the council worked hard on the budget and she hopes more revenue will come into the city in the coming year.
“We need to look to the future of Rossville,” said resident Debbie Blackman. “Let’s find people to consult with on how to create a better city. We live next to a city [Chattanooga] that has reinvented itself.”
Inner-City Aquaponics owner Ryan Cox said he is proud to be a business owner in Rossville and hopes to encourage more businesses to move there. He said Bobby McNabb told him to come to Rossville because he would feel at home. Now the business is teaching people how to feed impoverished nations.