Friday, January 02, 2015

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville operates on tight budget

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville’s $20.6 million budget approved for 2015 maintains all city services without any layoffs.

But there are no raises, no cost-of-living increases, no tuition reimbursement and no clothing allowance for any of the city’s employees.

“It’s the toughest budget we’ve had to work with,” explained Mayor Gary Fletcher.

“We will have to look for new sources of revenue and be creative with our spending,” he said.

“It’s not just a Jacksonville situation,” the mayor noted, “All area cities, including Little Rock, are facing a tough year.”

Fletcher added that he’s not happy with a lot of the cuts that had to be made and promised to revisit the budget later in 2015. “I’m optimistic that things will turn out, but we have to budget like it won’t.”

Besides the general budget, which the council approved at its Monday meeting, aldermen also approved the street, sanitation and EMS funds.

Finance Director Cheryl Erkel told the council that the city expects to see about a 2 percent increase in county taxes, but other taxes look to be flat.

“We will see new revenue sources from court fines that will help offset the annual jail cost of $201,000. We are also expecting Windstream (a landline phone company) to pay up on franchise fees from 2012 to 2015,” she said.

Erkel said the fire department has applied for a number of grants that should help them with equipment needs. If the grants come through, the fire department will be able to purchase 40 air packs, 80 air bottles and 63 face pieces.

Even though employees are not getting any raises at this point, their portion of health insurance will not go up.

The city is estimating that city sales tax collections in 2015 will come in at $13.5 million, up about $100,000 from 2014. Court fines and utility franchise fees also look to be up in 2015. But licensing and permits, intergovernmental transfers and service charges are all expected to be down.

When it comes to expenses, everyone is working with less.

The general government section of the budget, which includes the mayor’s office and most city hall departments, will operate with a $3.29 million budget in 2015 — down almost $500,000 from 2014.

The judicial side of the city is expected to spend $526,629, down about $11,000 from 2014.

Public works has a 2015 budget of $4.06 million, down $400,000 from 2014.

Public safety’s budget is also down about $500,000, going from $13.29 million in 2014 to $12.77 million this year.

Salaries and related expenses chew up most of the budget at $15.18 million, followed by contractual services at $2.88 million.

The street fund is budgeted at $2.23 million for 2015, up $60,000. Erkel said the city is expecting an increase in state tax turnback money to cover the slightly higher budget.

The sanitation fund’s revenue is expected to be $1.82 million, about $5,000 less than expenditures. Erkel pointed out that the sanitation and EMS funds are enterprise funds, meaning they aren’t required to have balanced budgets.

The EMS fund is expecting revenues of $1.4 million, but has allocated just $1.1 million for expenses so far.