City expects skeleton budget, again

By Thomas Wilson

City of Elizabethton officials are bracing for another year of stretching dollars to provide city services as industrial losses and state mandates take another bite out of the town's budget.
   The city's Director of Finance Bradley Moffitt said no property tax increase or city personnel layoffs are planned for the city of Elizabethton 2003-2004 budget proposal.
   "We are trying to cut everything we can without cutting people and not have any increases in taxes or anything like that," said Moffitt. "Homeland security and maintaining our present workforce are the two priorities we are looking at."
   Elizabethton City Council members are expected to hear budget reports and proposals for the new fiscal year later this month. The city's new fiscal year begins on July 1, 2003. Moffitt said he expected the next budget to have no capital expenditures except, "what is required for homeland security and the absolute minimum required to run the city."
   The city's 2002-2003 general fund budget dropped 13 percent from the previous year while the water and sewer fund was slashed 33 percent.
   "It's not a real good looking year for next year," said Moffitt. "We lose personal property tax on Alcoa; we have already lost the water and sewer revenue on Alcoa. We are trying to absorb all of those costs without having an increase in taxes."
   Through the first three quarters of the fiscal year, water/sewer revenues are running on track with $3.9 million, or 73 percent of the $5.36 million budgeted estimate. The fund's expenditures were running below budget with $3.2 million spent representing 54 percent of the budget's $6 million estimate.
   General fund revenues had eclipsed the $9 million mark representing 78 percent of the projected $11.5 million estimates. Expenditures were slightly below average with $8.6 million in expenditures -- approximately 74 percent of the budgeted $11.5 million general fund expenditure.
   The 2003-2004 state budget presented by Governor Phil Bredesen cuts 9 percent of state departments, including various state shared revenues usually sent back from Nashville to cities and counties. Moffitt estimated the city stood to lose $110,000 from the loss of the Hall income tax. Lawmakers had recommended cutting the Hall income tax, but leaving other state-shared revenues returned to city governments in place.
   "We don't want to lose any of it but if you have to choose, we would be much better off losing the Hall than the 9 percent across-the-board cut," Moffitt said.
   The city had implemented a hiring freeze with some positions in the water and sewer department not being filled. The personnel crunch is exacerbated by three city employees who have been called to serve on active duty with the U.S. military within the past year.
   Possible new police cruisers or a new fire truck with a life of 30 years represent major need items requested by the city's public safety departments. If a new fire truck is part of the budget, funding would likely be found in the city's fund balance, Moffitt said.
   Moffitt said the current budget would come into better focus by mid-May when property tax receipts were completed. Like cities and counties across the state, high prices for fuel and health insurance and liability insurance placed an additional strain on the city's bottom line. The spate of industries that have closed their doors in recent months not only take jobs -- they also take property tax and utility revenues that fund city services.
   "We're getting hit from all sides," he said. "We're not unlike the general public in trying to make due with what we've got and stretch it as far as we can do that."