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Last updateTue, 22 Jul 2014 9pm

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High Springs budget woes continue

HIGH SPRINGS – In order to offset a shortfall in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, High Springs City Manager Jeri Langman advised during the budget presentation on Tuesday that the City must decrease expenditures and boost revenues with increased millage rates and sewer fees.

“Each and every vote that this commission makes has a consequence,” Langman said. “I hope that the commission and the citizens realize we need sound budgetary practices without the puffery.”

When preparing for the budget process, commissioners advised Langman and Finance Services Director Helen McIver to be conservative, to not count unconfirmed revenue and to keep all department expenditures in line with the current year’s budget.

Although the city’s centralized sewer system is anticipated to add 75 new users in the near future, revenue from these users will not be calculated into the budget because the project has not yet gone out to bid. As a completion date is not in sight, Langman opted to leave out the potential revenues to avoid facing a shortfall because of incorrect projections. Since January, High Springs commissioners have expressed aggravation over decisions made by previous commissions to include unconfirmed revenues in the budget.

Facing a 5.9 percent decrease in ad valorem taxes, Langman said the City will have to raise millage rates by 6.9 percent to keep the general fund balanced. She also suggested increasing sewer rates by $16 per user, per month, in an effort to balance the sewer fund and eliminate the need to supplement sewer operations from the general fund.

Two of the City’s enterprise funds have been trending downward for the past nine months, Langman said. While the water fund and the solid waste fund operate at a profit, the sewer continues to lose money. In an effort to balance the sewer account, funds were transferred from water and solid waste revenues.

After the City balanced its enterprise funds, the general fund continued to show a deficit, she said. In response, the City decreased department head salaries to $50,000 annually, eliminated two full-time employees and decreased fire department volunteer staff and equipment. In addition, employees on City health insurance will be required to pay $20 more per pay period, totaling $780 per year.

“It’s time for us to rethink the City and hit the reset button,” Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas said.

With several lawsuits and complaints against High Springs still ongoing, the City faces possible additional costs. Langman warned the commission Tuesday of a potential $50,000 increase in expenditures if the Florida Supreme Court rules that municipalities, including High Springs, have to pay back employees for retirement accounts.

Commissioners decided not to vote on the proposed budget during the Tuesday meeting, instead they agreed to push back the decision until the July 31 meeting.

After the city manager explained the budget, Commissioner Sue Weller made a motion to table the agenda item discussing ad valorem rates until the Aug. 2 meeting. The motion passed unanimously.

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