published Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

Tight budget has LaFayette City Council eyeing cuts

LaFAYETTE, Ga. — Money's tight for LaFayette — and the City Council is mulling cuts or possibly passing costs on to residents.

"We're constrained, like everybody else," City Manager Frank Etheridge said Tuesday.

The council was due on Monday night to hear an outside auditor make a presentation about the 2012 fiscal year that ended about 180 days ago. The auditor couldn't make it because of a conflict, and the council is expected to call a meeting later this month to hear the presentation.

Council members already are considering measures to cut costs, such as furloughing employees or cutting hours city offices are open.

"They're looking at options," Etheridge said.

State health officials have mandated repairs to the city's swimming pool, which opened in the mid-1980s, including replacing tiles. Council members hope the state will let the city get by with $21,300 worth of repairs, Etheridge said, instead of making the estimated $65,000 fix all at once. If not, the pool might not open on Memorial Day.

The city's 2.99 property tax millage rate hasn't gone up in years, but Etheridge didn't expect that to increase. He said that when cities lower their millage rate, people forget about it in a couple of years.

"If you increase it even slightly, they'll remember it for a lifetime," Etheridge said.

Property taxes only generate about $400,000 annually, he said. Meanwhile, the city spends between $1.8 million and $2 million per month, including the wholesale cost of electricity and gas that it resells to residents.

City Councilman Andy Arnold said LaFayette has furloughed employees in the past when the budget was tight.

"When we did it last time, it was a last resort," he said.

Arnold doesn't like the idea of a property tax increase.

"I don't want to go up on anything. But I would much rather go up on utility [charges]," he said. "Then it gives people the opportunity to conserve. When we go up on property tax, there's no way you can conserve there."

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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