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Trimmed costs, innovations lead to Riverdale budget surplus

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Despite the difficult economy, the city of Riverdale has a budget surplus of $884,471.

The surplus was revealed after the city completed its fiscal 2008 audit last week, according to City Manager Iris Jessie.

The financial boon is the result of careful planning and frugal spending on the part of city department heads, said Jessie.

"It's actually a reduction from the previous year. Last year, we had about $1.7 million in revenue over expenditures," the city manager said.

She attributed the boost to commercial growth in the city.

"We haven't had to cut anything out, but we monitor travel, we monitor the number of people with cell phones, we pay more attention to what we spend, and we try to make sure we get the best deal possible," Jessie said. "We try to be as conservative as possible with the money we have. Whether it is office supplies, or furniture ... you really have to demonstrate that you need it."

The city of Riverdale has not gone wanting during the nation's tough economic times, Jessie said. In 2008, the city of Riverdale made capital improvements that included building a security fence around its public safety vehicle area, purchasing a quick-response vehicle for the city's fire department, purchasing several police cars, installing laptops in all 50 of the city's police cars and trucks, renovating the city's Community Development Building, roof repairs to several city buildings, and giving city employees a 2 percent cost-of-living raise.

To make up for the expenditures, as well as a dropoff in revenue from the residential sector, the city has been heavily promoting itself to the business community, Jessie said.

Last year, site work or construction began on several new businesses along Ga. Highway 85, including Dunkin' Donuts, Walgreens, Long John Silver's and The Quarters jazz club.

Another savings to Riverdale came with the replacement of the city's traditional phone system with a voice-over-Internet-protocol system. The system, which uses the Internet to place phone calls rather than traditional phone lines, is saving the city thousands of dollars per month, according to Michael Lockett, the city's information technology manager.

"It cost us $6,500 a month originally [to run the city's phones]," he said. "We reduced that to $2,300 a month. Another big savings is that we manage all our services in-house."

The city used to pay an outside vendor an additional $10,000 a year to operate the phone service, Lockett said.

Lockett said the new phone system allows residents to reach their city officials faster.

"Our citizens actually get a person on the first ring," he said. "We deal with the customers a lot better because they are not dealing with a phone map. Our citizens are happier because we are able to get them the services they need, quicker."

Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon said the city has received accolades from state agencies for its last two audits. She said the city is doing well because of cooperation among its department heads.

"That shows you what happens with good teamwork," she said. "That's all it is - department heads monitoring their budget and staying within their budget. We go out and get grants in order to ease our budget, so we don't have to tax people.

"It really comes from monitoring things on a daily basis," Wynn-Dixon said.

Jessie said the city of Riverdale is thinking ahead.

"We're not exempt from any downturn," she said. "The changes we did about three years ago, those changes have taken hold and some people are just doing this now. I guess you can say that we saw it coming."