Don’t look for anything new out of Commerce’s government next fiscal year.
Facing declining revenues related to plant closings and cutbacks, the 2009-10 city budget will be the leanest since 1990, reports city manager Clarence Bryant.
“The budget we’ll do this year will be very similar to the one we did in 1990,” Bryant said. “We’ll sit back and wait for the telephone to ring, and go out and fix it. It won’t be that extreme, but we’re looking for it to be very close to it.”
The budget process has just started. It will wind up in early July when a final version — including numbers from the last month of this fiscal year — is approved.
The early goal was to shave 15 percent from the operations cost of most departments. For the utilities, that means no capital expenditures and little maintenance other than what is absolutely necessary or required by law.
That doesn’t mean a 15 percent cut in the utility departments’ budgets. That’s not possible, given that so much of the expenses are tied up in buying gas or electricity.
Nor is it possible to trim all budgets by that amount.
“Some departments can do it and some can’t,” Bryant explained. “Some, if they do, are going to have to cut services.”
“We’re trying to do everything we can do to keep the level of service at the same rate and the level of employment at the same rate,” Bryant explained. “Neither of those is set in concrete.”
The first version of the budget — there could be four or five — has no raises and no cost-of-living increases.
“We still have the Christmas bonuses in there at this point, but they’re possibly on the chopping block too,” said Steve McKown, finance director.
Officials see declining sales tax revenue, both the local option sales tax, which is used for general purposes, and the special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST), which is limited in its usage.
Property taxes could also be hit. McKown notes that payments are running about 10 percent lower than normal. On the other hand, Jackson County will likely have a tax sale this year, enabling the city to collect on some past years’ taxes.
But the big blow to city finances is in the Gas Department. The closure of Louisiana Pacific and a production cut at Huber Engineered Woods are devastating the General Fund, which provides revenue for most city departments.
“We’re looking at somewhere between $400,000 and $500,000 (in lost revenue),” Bryant said. “We’re transferring between $300,000 and $400,000 (into the General Fund) from the Gas Fund. It’s been $850,000.”