As budget looms, Riverdale scrimping on expenses

By Justin Boron

With budget hearings coming in June, Riverdale will be grappling with how to offset dips in its revenue sources while still avoiding a tax increase.

The City Council will meet Monday to address the budget as city officials expect to have to tighten up on expenditures amid anticipated drops in its collection of local option sales tax and fines, said City Manager Iris Jessie.

Council member Rick Scoggins said he would do everything he could to avoid a tax increase.

Last year, the City Council elected to absorb rising costs in its $11.7 million budget instead of shifting the burden onto residents' tax bills.

Mayor Phaedra Graham said she couldn't say if a tax hike was possible but the council wouldn't leave any stones unturned during the budget proceedings.

"Nothing should be held off the table as a possible source of revenue or an area that needs to be downsized or completely deleted," she said.

Nevertheless, Riverdale is facing some financial hurdles.

A bill to bail out Delta Air Lines on payment of its fuel sales tax in Georgia is expected to drain income from municipalities in Clayton County, which generates a large portion of its local option sales tax from fuel sales at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Also fines from traffic violations in Riverdale have not been collected at the level expected, so Jessie said the city may have to compensate for that as well.

Already Riverdale has had to clamp down on its travel expenses and put off some special projects like a $20,000 City Hall sign and $50,000 in Christmas decorations, she said.

The city also is reorganizing the management of its money.

In a shift in policy, the City Council has created a finance department to be headed by Tom Pence, a retired colonel in the U.S. Army with a background in finance.

Historically, the city manager and the city clerk shared responsibility for finance management, she said.

Because of the Riverdale's financial pinch, Jessie said it can only afford Pence as a part time employee paid $3,000 a month.

But she said she would like to add the position full time in next year's budget.

Two administrative clerks, which have been handling accounts payable and receivable, also will be transferred to the new finance department, Jessie said.

With the growth of the city's seven other departments, each having unique budget issues, some reorganization needed to be done, she said.

"We really need to professionalize our financial management," Jessie said.

Whether the finance director will be made a full time position, ultimately will be decided by the City Council, who also will have the last say on whether to raise taxes.