Pandemic affects city budget

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Kingsland is looking to a hiring freeze and lower training costs to help balance the budget as the city goes into the final months of its fiscal year amidst COVID-19.

“I understand that the COVID virus has took a toll and unexpected hit on everybody and everybody’s budget,” councilman James Galloway said at online meeting last week. “Being as we are where we are and no idea what the future holds as far as the economics goes — obviously nothing good economic-wise is coming out of Atlanta — I’d kinda like to make the recommendation that we institute a hiring freeze for any new hires.”

All essential positions would still be filled, Galloway added, but a hiring freeze would allow the city to begin lowering costs to hopefully avoid deeper cuts next fiscal year.

The rest of council agreed with Galloway and councilman Alex Blount brought up another idea.

“We also probably want to cut any non-essential travel and training,” Blount said. “I imagine with what GMA (Georgia Municipal Association) is trying to do for summer conference, we’re going to see a lot more of the training opportunities be online. So obviously, a water plant operator keeping their certification or license is essential but anything we can eliminate on traveling and training, I think, we want to do that as well for the remainder of the fiscal year.”

The online courses GMA is offering are excellent and significantly cheaper, Mayor Grayson Day added.

“It’s a good supplement for that training we’re going to end up probably likely missing this summer, which all things aside, has saved the city some money as well,” Day said. “So that was a forced cut there but one that will save us some money.”

Council also heard a rundown of mid-year budget revisions from finance director Filiz Morrow. The city’s fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

The city lost some revenue as schools closed and people stayed home in the pandemic. Local Option Sales Tax dropped by 6%, alcohol taxes by 30%, hotel/motel taxes by 47% and the city’s contract with the school system to provide school resource officers was reduced by $30,000.

Four city departments asked for additional funding, mostly because of higher worker’s comp claims, Morrow said. The fire and public works departments found the extra money in their budgets and solid waste relied on its contingency fund to cover a worker’s comp claim that raised its bottom line by $83,000. The police department also saw increases in travel, uniforms, vehicles, equipment and overtime.

“That’s probably the biggest increase that we see in the department around $200,000,” Morrow said.

The water fund was also over budget on overtime and operations but found savings elsewhere. Although the convention and visitors bureau took a big hit on taxes, the bureau had enough in savings to make up the difference.

“This is excellent,” Day said after Morrow finished her report. “I know that staff has worked hard to make sure that they’re absorbing these reductions and they’ve had to make some cuts.”

Council also approved applying for a $20,818 grant from Homeland Security to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) for firefighters.

“This is a way for us to try to get ahead of the curve ‘cause again we don’t know what the future holds but that way we can have safety equipment for fireman,” fire chief Terry Smith said.

The grant — which requires a 5% match of $1,040 — would allow the department to replace the PPE that has already been used, Smith said.

“It’s good to have a supply for this and if we get it, than we can go back and restock and then that will carry us forward,” Day said.