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City manager John Godwin (right) elicited from council members in mid-June their budget priorities. From left are District 6 councilwoman Cleonne Drake, District 1 councilman Aaron Jenkins, District 2 councilwoman Sue Lancaster, city clerk Janice Ellis, and Godwin. (eParisExtra! photo by Charles Richards)
By CHARLES RICHARDS
Mayor AJ Hashmi said there’s a lot of good in city manager John Godwin’s proposed budget for the City of Paris for the 2012-2013 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Still, it’s disappointing, he said, because once again the city has a budget that was prepared without a strategic plan.
More on that below. First, here’s an overall look at what various council members wanted and what they got from the city manager’s budget proposal.
The mayor, who represents District 7, and councilman John Wright, who represents District 3, requested that Godwin deliver a tax cut from the current rate of 52 cents per $100 valuation “without cutting essential services.” Both also wanted more work done in house and without the use of consultants.
When the city manager presented his proposed 2012-2013 budget on Wednesday, he said he went into the budget process with a goal of reducing taxes by one-half percent.
“I am actually recommending a total ad valorem tax rate of 51.107 cents per $100 valuation, a reduction of 1.717 percent from the current rate,“ Godwin said.
One cent in the tax rate produces about $137,000 in revenue.
Godwin’s proposed budget is $21,907,267.
The city manager said he favors doing as much work in house as possible.
Hashmi said in June he would like to see a million dollars earmarked in the budget — $250,000 for dilapidated structures, $250,000 for clean-up of the city, $250,000 for new streets, and $250,000 for new water and sewer lines.
The city manager’s budget contains:
Everyone wanted more aggressive code enforcement on high grass and dilapidated houses.
On top of the $400,000 that the city council itself pulled out of general fund reserves “to tear down every dilapidated house in the city,“ Godwin increased the budget for demolitions from $60,000 to $100,000.
District 1 councilman Aaron Jenkins and District 2 councilwoman Sue Lancaster said more aggressive code enforcement is needed on high grass and dilapidated houses.
Godwin’s budget increases the budget for lien lot mowing from $25,000 to $39,500 and park mowing from $28,l000 to $42,000 and adds a second lien mowing crew leader to expand the city’s ability to mow more lots more quickly.
Dr. Richard Grossnickle, who represents District 4, asked for more money for drainage issues.
Godwin proposed an 86 percent increase in money for drainage problems, from $55,800 to $104,000.
Cleonne Drake, who represents District 6, said she hopes employee benefits are improved, particularly in the area of restoring things taken away from them in recent years.
The city manager said he did not include increases in the cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for the city’s 135 retired employees, saying to give them what they asked for in an appearance before the council last week would cost in excess of $1 million.
He told the council it might consider doing something — perhaps a stipend of $500 that would cost the city about $67,500.
Hashmi and District 5 councilman Matt Frierson made a strong pitch for implementation of a strategic plan.
“We need to know where we are now, our strengths and weaknesses, show and analysis, and how we move forward together,” Frierson said during a council workshop in mid-June.
The city manager addressed that in a memo to the council, summarizing what is contained in the budget.
“Simultaneous to working on the budget, I have been gathering ideas and thoughts for a comprehensive strategic plan for Paris,” Godwin said.
“Without a good working plan, cities run the danger of adopt ing budgets that over time become fragmented, with little or no focus, instead just incrementally ratcheting costs up from one year to the other.”
Hashmi said he had hoped a strategic plan would already be in place.
“Above all, what lacks in it is the fact that we have allocated funds again, but we don’t have a plan. When we function without a plan, it is a haphazard thing that is happening,” Hashmi said.
Godwin’s budget calls for hiring a city planner who would go to work in November and work part-time.
Also, he endorsed the council’s idea of a citizens advisory group to prioritize new infrastructure and said that committee should be charged with developing a capital improvement program.
The council is still studying the budget, but the mayor said he is disappointed that the manager had the budget ready by Aug. 1 but waited three weeks to show it to the council, giving the appearance he didn’t want the council to tamper with it.
Since the city has been without a strategic plan for so long, the mayor said, he thinks the city should not wait until November to bring a planner aboard.
The city would be better served, Hashmi said, with a full-time planner rather than a part-time planner.
Here are other items the city manager has in his budget proposal:
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