City restless, anxious for budget solutions

By Julie Fann
Star Staff
jfann@starhq.com

  
Piles of documents decorate the city financial director's desk.
   One look at them, and you can visualize the trail that also extends all the way to Nashville. If money, or the absence of it, is the root of all evil, Brad Moffitt is ready for a solution.
   "I just hope the Tennessee legislature does something soon. This is the fourth year this has gone on, and the citizens are tired; it's somewhat of a farce," Moffitt said. With the city having already cut 13 percent of its general fund, now down to $11,349,110, and 33 percent from the water/sewer fund, Moffitt says the city may need to look at possibly tapping into its reserve balance or increasing revenue.
   "I don't think an increase in property taxes would really help because an increase of one penny only generates about $12,000. We would have to look at a pretty significant increase, and I don't think we could do that," he said.
   The city has approximately $3.1 million in its emergency fund balance that is available. Moffitt said the city may need to use it as well as $100,000 that has been set aside for street paving. "With the Elk Avenue bridge repair, the city is only prepared to pay 25 percent of that cost. If the state passes the DOGs budget, we'll have to nickel and dime the budget to death. It will just be a lose/lose situation."
   According to City Manager, Charles Stahl, the nation's economic recession and the state's budget dilemma only increase the magnitude of local budget problems, the main one being the recent closing of the Alcoa Water Plant, which resulted in a loss of $200,000 in city revenue.
   Mayor Pro Tem, Sam Shipley, said he believes the idea of using the fund balance that's there is a good idea, as well as the idea of cutting paving costs. "It sounds like a good alternative to me," he said.
   The city is scheduled to give a final approval of its budget at a second reading next week. The new budget doesn't allow for new capital projects at all.
   Stahl also agreed with Brad Moffitt's ideas. He said that, obviously, the state's budget situation is a concern and is causing a lot of stress not only for the city, but also for the county and area schools.
   "I like to think that, regardless, the General Assembly will respond in some form or fashion so that local government services aren't effected," he said. Stahl said that, if, in fact, an amount of money is cut from state revenue the city receives, City Council will be forced to look at possibly cutting government services.
   "We may even have to look to the voters and decide on the possibility of increasing the local option sales tax. I'm confident, though, the state will resolve things. It's better now, though, to wait than to overreact," he said.