Heflin Council trying to avoid deficit spending
by Laura Camper
Jul 17, 2013 | 3685 views |  0 comments | 81 81 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The city of Heflin is working on creating its first budget in four years that doesn’t call for deficit spending, administrators said.

In fiscal years 2011 and 2012, the city had to dip into the its reserves to balance the budget. The current year’s budget, which was approved by the previous administration, also spends more than the city will take in by more than $400,000, said City Clerk Shane Smith.

On Feb. 11, the current City Council made some changes to the budget, which will end Sept. 30, to save the city some money, Smith said. But property tax revenue was lower than the budget had originally estimated, and Smith’s not sure how much the city will have to dip into reserves to balance at this point, he said. The amended budget estimated the deficit to be $376,655.

This year, as the council hammers out a new budget, it is hoping to balance without dipping into reserves, said Councilman Shannon Roberts, one of the members of the budget committee.

“We’re stressed, and we can’t keep doing a deficit budget,” Roberts said. “We need to get to neutral spending.”

A variety of efforts should help the city to do that, including cutting down spending for capital projects, Roberts said.

Capital spending drove the city into the red, Smith said.

In fiscal year 2011, the city budgeted $84,000 for capital expenditures and spent $208,227. In fiscal year 2012, the city budgeted $207,000 for capital expenditures but spent $506,622. In October, part of this fiscal year, the city renovated the old National Guard Armory building on Evans Street to create the Heflin Civic Center, Smith said. Smith wasn’t sure how much the renovations cost, but he said they were part of the reason the city will have to dip into reserves this fiscal year.

Complicating the budget process is the city’s debt. The city had $6.8 million in debt for the recreation center and the industrial park on Interstate 20 at the beginning of fiscal year 2013. In 2011, the city spent $396,644 on interest and principal. In 2012, it spent $355,440 on interest and principal. That was more than 10 percent of the city’s actual spending for both years.

“We have to look and budget accordingly to make sure that we’ve got the money to cover the debt,” Smith said. “We know what we have to pay each year on the debt.”

During the coming year, Roberts said he doesn’t see much more than maintenance requiring any capital expenditures. In addition, there might be some changes in the way the city pays for its infrastructure, Roberts said. He would like to see the city use its gasoline tax money for street paving, for instance. Currently the city allocates that money for street lights along the city roads.

Mayor Rudy Rooks also sees street paving as a priority.

“We’re slow in dealing with that now,” Rooks said. “I’d like to see us get our drainage taken care of and all of our (drainage) pipes and things that have been kind of put on the back burner.”

There may also be changes in personnel policies to help ease the city into the black, Roberts said. Currently the city has a policy to buy back vacation time from employees after they reach a certain number of accrued vacation hours, Roberts said. He said the council is considering ending that policy and if employees don’t use those excess hours, the hours will be lost, Roberts said.

But even as the city moves to tighten its belt, administrators have things on their wish lists that they will try to fit in this budget or possibly future budgets in their terms.

New fencing at the Heflin Recreation Center, work on the stadium seating and drainage at the city football field, sidewalks on Almon Street and walking trails are just a few of the items Rooks and Roberts named.

They will prioritize the items and do what they can, the rest will roll over to later budgets, Smith said.

But the council members know the city needs to increase its revenue to help fund these ventures, Rooks said.

Smith said the city will continue to try to recruit business to the community, which in turn would increase revenue. In addition, Rooks said the city will be looking for ways to help the Heflin Industrial Board further its development of the industrial park.

“Right now, instead of putting cash in, we’re putting in time and labor,” Rooks said.

The city has used its own equipment to put some pathways into the park so that prospective businesses can look around, Rooks said.

The city is also looking for grant opportunities to help it move forward with its projects, Rooks said.

Smith said he should have a proposed budget for the City Council by Aug. 27. The council members need to approve a budget by Sept. 24, he said. The new budget will become effective Oct. 1.

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.

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