FLOWERY BRANCH - City Finance Director Jeremy Perry told City Council members that the proposed budget for fiscal year 2014 will allow the south Hall municipality to keep the millage rate at 2.837 mills for the ninth consecutive year.
No property tax increases. That sits well with everyone.
This good news, however, comes in spite of an anticipated decrease in property tax revenues for the city due to lower property valuations, a 2-percent cost-of-living pay increase scheduled for city employees, plus an increase in health care insurance premiums paid by the city.
So how does that work? How can you have a balanced budget with decreased revenues and increased expenses? Where does the new money come from?
Part of the answer lies with the fact that despite Flowery Branch's national fame as the home of the Atlanta Falcons, it still is a small town. To put that in perspective, the entire FY 2014 recommended budget for Flowery Branch is just $5.65 million. That $5.65 million would fund less than an hour of the $60 billion FY 2013 budget for New York City.
So when Perry explains that Flowery Branch plans to refurbish their police department patrol cars rather than replace them (a plan similar to one recently undertaken by Hall County Sheriff, Gerald Couch), that Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) revenues could bring an increase of $250,000 to city coffers, and that the money lost to lower property taxes (as mentioned above) is less than $5000, small towns like Flowery Branch are able to bring a balanced budget to their citizens.
And, Perry added, there could be monies left over from the current FY 2013 budget. "I know this fiscal year, FY13, is going to come out in the black," he said. "I'm projecting we'll be $100 (thousand)-plus to the good, in the general fund, in the black, this year."
City Manager Bill Andrew underscored the positive news about the proposed new budget. "The budget, as it stands right now, is fully funded."
But Andrews revealed something else about the budget process that surprised many in the audience.
He pointed to the budget revenue item "Fines and Forfeitures". The $335,000 amount recommended for FY2014 is identical to the amount in the FY 2013 budget.
Perry explained that with six weeks left in FY2013 over $368,000 in fines and forfeitures had already been collected...the budgeted income has been exceeded...but that, in spite of being positive budget news, is not what city leaders want.
"We've made a conscious decision with the Police Department...not to pressure the officers to write tickets...to have targets for them. It's something we don't want to do," Andrew said.
"Unless, obviously, the law is being broken," Andrew continued. "A lot of people think small town police departments are revenue centers (for traffic tickets), but clearly we're not."
Andrew said that when he became City Manager that budget item was over $700,000. "I think we've cut that revenue expectation in half."
Andrew said that at one time the amount of fines and forfeitures in Flowery Branch exceeded $1 million. "It's something we've been trying to get away from."
Flowery Branch Police Chief David Spillers was in full agreement. "Citations should be issued for safety purposes. The goal of tickets is not to produce revenue; it's to make sure that you and your wife and your children get home and get to school and get to work alive, every time."