The council approved the budget in a vote of 6-0 with Mayor Pro-Tem Melleny Pritchett absent.
The budget includes a 6.5 percent increase for water/sewer customers, Smyrna spokeswoman Jennifer Bennett said. Smyrna residential customers will see a monthly increase of $1.95 on usage of 2,000 gallons and an increase of $3.28 on 5,000-gallons usage, “which represents the midrange of usage for most Smyrna customers,” she said.
Smyrna city administrator Eric Taylor, who is in charge of the city’s water utility, said it’s a matter of rising operational costs.
“I would hope that they would understand just like any other business we have costs that go up just like anybody else and we have to offset those costs somehow,” Taylor said, when asked what he thought Smyrna residents would make of the water fee hike. “We have staff that has to be paid for out of the water fund. Health costs have gone up, retirement costs have gone up, electricity bills have gone up. You’ve got to keep the lights on.”
Smyrna buys its water wholesale from the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority, whose seven-member board includes Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon and Cobb Board of Commissioners Chairman Tim Lee.
“We’ve had some increases in the last few years, but that’s just been passing along the wholesale rate increase that we get from the increase that the Water Authority has been giving,” Taylor said. “But we have had just increased operational costs. We’re doing a lot of work on being proactive, taking care of our system so we don’t end up like Atlanta or East Point or some place like that where we are putting money into it now so we don’t get hit with something we’re unprepared for later on.”
Bacon echoed Taylor’s comments.
“That’s a tough deal for us all, but it has to do with maintaining our system, and the last thing I think any of us want to do is to end up not addressing the issue now to maintain the system and don’t raise the rates or adjust the rates and you end up with a system that’s got a lot of flaws in it,” Bacon said.
The general fund budget balances revenues and expenses at $37.8 million, a decrease of $700,000 or 1.8 percent over fiscal 2013’s amended budget, Bennett said.
The overall city budget balances revenues and expenses at $68.7 million, which is a decrease of $5.67 million or 7.6 percent over 2013’s amended budget.
Bennett said the budget decrease represents “a conservative approach” to revenues, as well as the completion of several large projects in the previous fiscal year that are not in the fiscal 2014 budget. These completed projects include a new $3.2 million pumping station at Belmont Hills, and a fire station construction grant to build the new Fire Station No. 5, located off Cooper Lake Road, near the East-West Connector.
A point of pride is that the city’s millage rate has been 8.99 mills since fiscal year 2006. The new budget is the 23rd consecutive budget without any increase to the millage rate.
“It’s gone down or stayed the same every year for 23 years,” Taylor said. “I think it’s unusual especially within the last couple of years. I think it’s a sign of the financial stewardship that the council has taken on. They would rather than try to solve things by just increasing revenues look at ways to become more efficient and more streamlined.”
No raises were included in the budget, but that may be revisited in January, Taylor said.
“Once we get all the final projections and revenue there’s going to be something in there for our employees somewhere,” Bacon said. “Our revenue projections are what we’re all about, but I think somewhere in there we’re going to look hard at giving our employees an increase (in January).”
The 2013 budget paid for 391 full-time city employees. The new budget pays for 395. Those four new positions are for a server administrator for the information technology department, a crew worker for the building and plant department, a new captain for the police department and a planner/inspector for community development, Bennett said.
The budget also calls for what Bennett describes as “minor fee increases” for parks and recreation program charges and rental fees. For example, the cost of renting the community center’s banquet hall for four hours rose from $250 to $275 for residents and $300 to $325 for nonresidents.
“Police Department also has a few small proposed increases to monthly probation fines, permits and fingerprinting/background check services,” she said. For example, the cost of a background check rose from $20 to $25 and the cost of a drug screening from $30 to $35.
Bacon said the budget wasn’t perfect, but few budgets are.
“You never get everything that you want in a budget,” Bacon said. “I don’t think everyone on the council is 100 percent happy with it to speak of, but the issue is I think overall, yeah, I’m OK with it. I think we’re still trying to look at where we’re going and where we need to be. It’s all about revenues and being able to operate within the funds that you have.”