Draft of Fulton City Budget Raises Tax Levy 5.9%; Mayor Promises 0% When Budget’s Done

The first pass at a Fulton city budget for 2011 contains a 5.9% tax increase, but Mayor Ron Woodward says that when the work is done, there will be no tax increase left.

City lawmakers worked on a draft of the budget at a workshop Saturday.

The draft showed a budget that would spent $212,000 more and take in $120,000 less. The $333,000 gap is what Woodward says must be eliminated.

“I don’t want a tax increase, I don’t want to see people struggle any harder than they are to keep their homes,” he said. “I’m confident we can get it down to the point where we don’t have an increase.”

The major problem in this year’s budget is the cost of public employee retirements. City taxpayers will spend an extra $88,000 on retirements for city employees and an extra $193,000 on retirements for city police and fire employees.

Local governments have to make up the difference between what the state makes on investments of retirement funds and what’s needed to cover retirement checks. There have been years when no contribution was required because of how well state investments had done, but the recession damaged all investments and local contributions have been sharply higher.

Woodward said he is considering amortizing this year’s retirements increases, meaning that they would be paid over 10 years. That would make a $230,000 difference in the budget, putting overall spending in 2011 below 2010 levels and cutting the tax levy increase to 1.79%.

The other large increase is a nearly $84,000 rise in the fire department’s budget, but Woodward indicated that number could be sharply reduced if a pending employee illness case is settled before the end of the year.

The city will continue to do more with less. Woodward said that two more positions vacated by retirements will not be filled — a code enforcement position and a position at the Water Department.

There are many smaller cuts in the proposed budget. Sidewalk repairs will be paid for by a bond issue, not by direct spending. New equipment for the public works department should mean fewer repairs. Restructured contracts with outside firms will lower spending on those items. In all, Woodward is taking about $200,000 out of the budget’s various line items on the first pass.

“You’ve got a lot of money to make up,” he said. “One way or another I’ll get there.”