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Athens officials cite insufficient funding to address growth

By Holly Hollman 340-2445

ATHENS — Growing pains are attacking the city's wallet.

That means the city will turn to yours.

A financial overview Thursday for the Athens City Council shows an expected $19,077 left over in this year's fiscal General Fund budget.

That's better than ending with a deficit, but it doesn't give the city the financial ability to address growth issues, officials said.

Public Works Director James Rich said Athens expects to grow with the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission process that is bringing jobs and workers to Redstone Arsenal.

"But we were already growing before BRAC," Rich said.

The city has seen 4 percent residential growth the past two years. That equals 400 new homes.

And Rich said up to 600 subdivision lots are in the planning or development process.

Cities don't make money off rooftops, Rich said, because property taxes are low. More rooftops cost the city money when it has to provide services such as garbage pickup, police and fire protection, and road upkeep.

Sanitation Manager Earl Glaze said the city loses $4.67 per house now on garbage and trash pickup, leaf collection and recycling. Revenue from commercial service covers that loss, but won't keep up if 600 new homes locate here, he said.

Rich proposed doing a comprehensive plan to show the council how it can raise fees for things like business licenses and building permits and raise rates such as sanitation. Rich said Athens is much lower on fees than surrounding cities. A $500 building permit in Athens would cost $2,000 in Madison, he said.

'Cafeteria plan'

He said this would be a "cafeteria plan" because the council could pick and choose what to raise for its fiscal 2008 budget.

The council will address one rate increase before that plan is complete. Gas Manager Steve Carter wants the council to vote Monday to raise the minimum use charge for residential from $2 a month to $4 month, Council President Harold Wales said.

Wales and Councilman Johnny Crutcher said they don't approve that increase because customers would be paying more for gas they aren't using.

Crutcher said the city needs to look at budget cuts and ways to save money.

For example, he said, the Police Department has about 10 surplus vehicles taking up parking space at the new station. The department, he said, could make due with two extra vehicles. Wales said the city could sell the surplus vehicles and put that money into the General Fund.

Police Chief Wayne Harper said after the meeting that no one has complained to him about parking and that he has four or five surplus patrol cars to use when a car is in the shop or reserve officers help with major events such as the Christmas parade.

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