Austell’s finance director, Denise Soesbee, said balancing the new fiscal year’s budget has been the toughest in her nearly five years on the job.
“It’s been tough,” Soesbee said. “A lot of things have hit the city. This year, out of all the years I’ve been there, has been the toughest year to try to basically get by with the necessities and not reduce any kind of services. We just had to prioritize better.”
About $433,000 was cut from the proposed budget, largely as a result of a $500,000 decrease in franchise fees from the Austell Natural Gas System, due to lower gross sales caused by a decline in customer usage and natural gas prices.
The natural gas distribution utility is a component of the city of Austell and is governed and administered by the Austell Gas Board.
Other factors affecting the budget include employee health care premiums, which increased 14 percent; increases in fuel costs; and matching funds for city property damaged in the flood and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s home buy-back program, both of which require the city to pay 15 percent of the costs.
As a result, the city had to cancel its annual Halloween Festival, which has been put on hold the past two years, and will probably not have as many Christmas lights, if any, to decorate the city this season, Soesbee said.
“We’re going to have to try to find some other funding,” she said.
While not pleasant, the cuts Mayor Joe Jerkins asked various departments to make were necessary to avoid such things as layoffs or furloughs, he said. The longtime mayor also admitted that the belt-tightening process was a difficult one.
“We discussed some things we could get by without,” Jerkins said.