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Jonesboro City Council receives budget

Officials, residents can ask questions today

Members of the Jonesboro City Council only briefly discussed the city’s proposed $2.76 million, 2012 budget, after it was formally introduced, Thursday, before moving on to other matters.

The council spent less than 10 minutes on the budget, during a rare morning, called meeting, before going into an executive session to discuss a personnel issue. It was the first time the council held discussions in public on next year’s budget, which councilmembers just received this week.

There is the possibility, however, that Thursday’s brief budget talks could have merely been a prelude to more detailed questions from the council during a budget public hearing this morning. At least one councilmember, Joe Compton, said he had not yet had an opportunity to review the spending plan, after being out of town for a week.

He said he believed councilmembers would “absolutely” ask more questions at today’s public hearing, after having an opportunity to review, and digest the plan.

The public hearing is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., at the Jonesboro Police Department headquarters, located at 170 South Main St. It will likely be the only opportunity for questions to be posed to city officials about the budget, before the council’s scheduled Dec. 12 vote on it.

Because the city’s budget year matches the calendar year, it must have a balanced budget in place by Jan. 1, under state law. The budget being proposed shows expenditures and revenues would be exactly the same amount.

Mayor Luther Maddox did not rule out the possibility that councilmembers could raise additional questions about the budget during the public hearing, when residents will have their opportunity to query city officials, too. “It’s a public hearing, so I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Maddox said.

Jonesboro’s 2012 budget is just a bit larger than the $2.75 million approved by the city council for 2011. Maddox said the main reason is because sales tax revenues have been higher than expected. The city expected to bring in $950,000 in sales tax revenues, but is now expecting $1.02 million in 2012.

“We live on sales tax income, bar none,” the mayor said. “They’re up a little now, and we project them to up a little bit next year [as well] ... If our projections of revenues are correct, and we stick to the expenditures that we’ve got listed, we won’t have to dip into the reserves.”

There are only a few other changes between the budget approved for 2011, and the one being proposed for next year. Changes in department expenditures varied from department to department. Spending decreases were seen in administration (a $26,205 drop, fueled largely by a $12,000 decrease in legal expenses); court services (a projected $412 drop), and code enforcement (a $100 decrease).

Expenditure increases are expected in the police department (a $27,940 increase) and the public works department (up by $5,695). There will, however, still be cuts in both departments. The police department’s largest cuts are expected to be $16,000 for overtime and $11,000 for uniforms. Those cuts are offset, however, by a projected $29,300 increase in insurance expenses for department employees.

The public works department’s largest cuts are projected to be $25,000 for site improvements, $2,000 each for worker compensation, tree removal services, and waste removal, and $1,500 for landscaping supplies.

Those cuts are offset by several expenditure increases in public works, including an extra $20,000 spent on street lights and traffic signals, a $6,700 increase in employee insurance, and a $4,000 increase for vehicle parts.

City officials only re-instituted a town property tax rate this year, for the first time in several years. That meant they now have a dollar amount to use when determining revenues brought in by that tax. When re-establishing the property tax, city officials initially went on speculation, and budgeted to bring in $166,182 from the 1.5-mill tax. For 2012, using the amount of money brought in this year as a guide, they budgeted to bring in only $65,000, at the same millage rate.

Other changes include a projection of a $12,500 increase in revenues from franchise taxes on utilities, such as electricity, gas and cable television.

Business-related revenues are somewhat of a mixed bag for the city. Revenues from business and occupational taxes are expected to drop by $5,000, down to a total of $165,000 in 2012. But, Insurance premium tax revenues are projected to increase by $20,000, to a total of $220,000, while money earned from financial institution taxes are expected to go up by $3,000, to a total of $15,000.

Revenues generated from the city’s sale of beer and wine licenses is projected to increase by $1,000, to a total of $15,000, as the city moves into what is expected to be the town’s first full year with legalized Sunday package alcohol sales.