People in these parts live by seasons: football season, basketball season, baseball season, and for those of us in government, budget season. Budgets can be very taxing and confusing, even to some CPAs. It is, however, because of its intricate nature that the budgeting in Central is thoroughly thought out and considered with the utmost severity.
The formulation of the budget begins in a meeting between Financial Director Suzanne Cowart and Mayor Jr. Shelton, during which they discuss and determine everything except the Police Department budget. For the Police Department budget, the Financial Director sits with the Police Chief to craft his budget and add it to the city’s budget, which the Mayor then presents to the Council for approval.
After putting together the preliminary budget, there is a budget workshop at which the Council, Mayor, Police Chief, and Finance Director hammer out the details of a final budget. That meeting is open to the public. In fact, this year’s meeting was live streamed online and posted to social media. During that meeting, many items were discussed, cut out, added and changed.
In this year’s budget, I decided to take an aggressive approach in the areas of Economic Development and road repair and rehab. Economic Development is the backbone of any municipality and without an initiative to develop our local economy, we would set ourselves up for failure. The ability to fund budgets in Central comes from sales tax revenue. If we don’t bring those to the city that can help us produce that revenue, our budgets and the services you expect will dwindle. I am not willing to take that chance with your lives.
There is gross misinformation currently in circulation that, I believe, was manipulated to infer that our budget is bloated. First and foremost, the budget for our Code Enforcement, called Judicial Expenditures, is the exact same amount budgeted 2015-2016 as is projected to be budgeted for 2016-2017: $153,750.00. Second, in 2015-2016 we only spent $14,350 of the $45,000 budgeted for Legal Services. The $100,000 budgeted last year for Enforcement of Administrative Orders was not spent because of ordinances that had to be put in place to allow us to legally enforce these orders. Therefore, the reported budget of $153,750 is not an increase in this year’s projected budget over last year’s budget at all. Sometimes, even trained CPAs fail to understand the difference between projected budgets and actual expenditures.
Our budget did in fact, and in reality increase with a rise of our contract with our City Service Provider, IBTS of $122,000, due to a clause that gives a yearly increase. Said clause was negotiated 5 years ago and is in effect with the extension of their contract.
Economic Development is budgeted with $181,000 this year over last year’s budget of $76,000. This is, indeed, consistent with my commitment to move our city forward and help us grow in ways that will help insure your family’s wellbeing.
The Chief presented the Police Department budget for the coming year, which is actually $373,313.94 not the $426,000 figure as reported in a local newspaper this morning, taking care to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the citizens. This was the most discussed budget at the Budget workshop. After some changes, the remaining product was a projected budget that will allow the Chief to staff his department and adhere to state policy. While the Police Department Budget has increased significantly, so too have our services in that department increased for our citizens. Our Sheriff’s office works closely with our Chief to be sure that all facets of public safety are addressed. The paid employees added are a part time administrative position and a part time officer to work evenings so our compliance with state law concerning the writing of collisions within our city limits is met. There are other expenditures in the budget for vehicles and equipment that are assets of the city entrusted to the Police department. I ask you to consider this police budget compared to the millions budgeted by Baker, Zachary and other municipalities of our size or smaller, and I believe you’ll see that our volunteer department does more with less. I commend our Police Department and our officers for jobs well done. I made one promise to our Police Chief when we took office: to give him the tools needed to keep Central safe. I believe the budget he presented and the council discussed at the Budget Workshop will do that. The Chief’s budget is definitely part of the budget I am presenting to the Council and when the Council approves the final budget, we, as a government will all have ownership in that budget.
The City Council is a body that is deeply committed to doing specific jobs: they want to keep Central stable, keep Central viable, and ensure you and your families of a safe environment to live and prosper. The budget process is the first step in accomplishing those tasks. I am proud of the work the Council and I have done in the first two years of our term and look forward to the year ahead and what this budget will allow us do for you.