The Statham City Council unanimously approved the city’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget during its Tuesday, June 16 meeting with two weeks to spare — a stark contrast to last year, when the council was six weeks late adopting a spending plan for FY2020 due to several concerns with the numbers.
The city’s balanced budget for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1, will be just under $4.82 million with a $2.52 million General Fund and $2.3 million Utility Fund. The total budget will be roughly $1.5 million more than in FY20, with about $680,000 more in General Fund expenses and a little more than $870,000 in additional Utility Fund expenses.
The council also approved an amended FY2020 budget, which added a little more than $67,000 to the final revenues and expenditures and corrected several journal-entry errors made by the previous city administration.
Since the city’s elections in November, two new council members and a new mayor, Joe Piper, have come on board. And Piper has made sweeping staff changes, eliminating the city administrator position, bringing the former city clerk back into that role and hiring a new city accountant.
“I appreciate you getting full transparency (with the budget document) to the council and making it very easy to see where the money is and where it’s going,” councilman Dwight McCormic said to new accountant April Plank. McCormic was a leading critic on council of the city’s budget process last year and pointed out the numbers presented during that cycle lacked specificity.
“I think this is light years better than last year’s budget,” he said. “It makes it easy to make a decision.”
In FY21, the city plans to spend an additional $170,000-plus on its police department under new chief Ira Underwood, including the addition of two full-time officers and two new vehicles, along with additional computers and equipment. Underwood had also proposed the hiring of an additional support-services person in the department to handle office administrative duties, but that money was instead moved to the public works department for the hiring of another employee at a salary of $35,000 to bulk up what Piper has described as a thinly-stretched staff.
In a late change, the council approved budgeting for the hire of yet another public works employee at $35,000 and cutting out a $60,000 line item for public works assistance from Jackson County corrections workers.
Of that $25,000 difference, $17,500 was allotted to the Statham Public Library to help fully fund a grant for renovations to the library building. The remainder was applied toward road improvements.
Piper said that for now the city would plan to hire one public works employee right away, monitor its revenues and then decide whether to proceed with the second hire or amend the budget to bring in the help from Jackson County.
The city plans to spend more than $400,000 on street, sidewalk and crosswalk repairs and plans to contribute roughly a third of a $968,000 sewer-service project that is also being funded through a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, along with a contribution from a land developer, the Walton Group. Since the agreement was made, the new council members and mayor have come on board and the current council has expressed concerns with moving forward on the project until more details are known.
The city budgeted $305,000 for property-tax revenues (a 4.1-percent increase over last year) and is expecting that number to increase more with recent developments and new residential housing.
In other business at its June 16 meeting, the council:
•once again tabled a vote on the final plat for the Lakes of Statham subdivision. Representatives for the project told city officials there will still items to be crossed off the final checklist. The council is now scheduled to vote on the item at its July 21 meeting.
•met in closed session for about 20 minutes to discuss pending litigation. No votes were taken.