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Morrow rejects 2011 budget on first vote

By Joel Hall

The Morrow City Council will host a special called meeting today at 3 p.m., at the Morrow Municipal Complex, to try to adopt the city's proposed fiscal 2011 budget, which failed to gain approval on Tuesday.

In the proposed budget, the city anticipates a $1.4 million surplus, in addition to a 2 percent merit increase for qualified city employees.

According to City Manager Jeff Eady, Mason Barfield was excused from Tuesday night's meeting, leaving the four-member council one member short. Councilmen Bob Huie and Virlyn Slaton voted in favor of the proposed budget, and Councilman John Lampl voted against it, he said.

"Our charter says that we must have three 'yes' votes from the council [to approve an item]," Eady said. "Councilman Lampl was opposed. He thought the final numbers needed a little more refining."

The city's proposed, 2011 budget is $18.7 million, slightly down from last year's original budget of $19.9 million. Morrow Finance Manager Dan Defnall said the city is cutting back on some of it's special projects to focus on essential services.

"Our revenues are remaining fairly flat," Defnall said. "There hasn't been any major drop in revenues. We were originally going to fund a merit increase of 3.5 percent [for city employees]. We cut that down to 2 percent. Overall, that was about $95,000 [in savings]. In this budget, we are curtailing some of our special projects, capital expenditures, and focusing on our core services."

Departments expected to see significant funding cutbacks in fiscal 2011 are the Planning and Economic Development and Public Works departments. Planning and Economic Development will receive $437,000, $125,000 less than last year's original budget amount. Public Works will receive $1.02 million, $88,900 less than the previous year.

"We are looking at some staff restructuring in our economic development department," Defnall said. "We just hired a new planning and economic development director two weeks ago. We're hoping as much as possible to move people into other positions. The last thing we want to do is lay people off."

Lampl, who served as the city's Downtown Development Authority (DDA) director prior to joining the council, expressed concern about less funding going toward the Planning and Economic Development Department. He said the move would have a direct impact on the DDA and projects, such as Olde Towne Morrow.

"Olde Towne [Morrow] is still in it's infancy," he said. "If we are cutting those dollars, what return are we getting? It's not a number. It's probably a person. I think there are some impacts that we should justify more, especially to the Olde Towne district."

In addition, Lampl said that the Morrow Business and Tourism Authority (MBTA) has yet to submit a formal work plan for how it plans to spend additional hotel-motel tax revenues. This year, the Georgia General Assembly passed a bill allowing Morrow to increase it's hotel-motel tax, from 6 to 8 percent, and Lampl said that, in order to capitalize on the funding, a spending plan must be adopted in the city's fiscal budget.

"If you are going to take advantage of this new revenue, there are requirements for reporting purposes before you can collect the tax," Lampl said. "Our tourism contract itself says that we were going to submit a work plan. We're seeing a document, but that document wasn't formally accepted by their organization. I want to make sure that we don't trip over something that we worked so hard on with all of the citizens, because we weren't technically correct."

Lampl said it may be better to "suspend the approval of the proposed budget until July," to give the MBTA a chance to put forth an official spending plan.

Eady said the city's only major expenditure in fiscal 2011 will be $700,000 out of Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) revenues to fund the second phase of it's Jester's Creek Pathway Project. Supported by an $800,000 Georgia Department of Transportation Grant, the second phase of the project will extend a pedestrian path system from the Oakridge Drive area to Millirons Park, near the intersection of Morrow Road and Graceland Circle.

"We're cutting back on the vehicle purchases for the police department," Eady said. "We were looking to purchase two ambulances for our fire department ... we are going to purchase one. We're really cutting back our capital expenditures. The department heads and accounting department worked diligently to get us some workable numbers that are realistic, and that we can work with throughout the year."

The city council is expected to vote on the proposed budget this afternoon at 3 p.m.