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Decatur council passes operating budget

By Evan Belanger 340-2442

In a special-called meeting Friday, the Decatur City Council passed a new operating budget that cuts spending by more than 2 percent.

The 2008 operating budget calls for more than $53.7 million in spending, down from $54.9 million in 2007. It takes effect Monday, the first day of fiscal 2008.

Key items in the budget include a 3 percent cost-of-living raise for all full-time city employees and more than $1.5 million for street-resurfacing projects.

Both Mayor Don Kyle and City Council President Billy Jackson described the budget as conservative. Kyle said improving economic situations in Decatur could leave a surplus at the end of the fiscal year.

The city has ended with a surplus the past three years, which has kept the council from borrowing more than $7 million for capital improvements, Kyle said.

Other key items in the budget include more than $60,000 to pay additional benefits to retired city employees. It also increases funding for Point Mallard Park by $259,553, up to $3.77 million.

Kyle said that was because of increased revenue taken in at the park in 2007.

Funding for non-profit agencies supported by the city dropped $5,000. That included the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts, which dropped from $70,000 in annual appropriations to zero.

Chief Financial Officer Gail Busbey said theater officials informed the city about six weeks ago they were no longer able to make payments on a city-financed loan exceeding $85,000. The city is taking over payment of the debt, but cutting funding to make up the difference, she said.

The action cost the city about $20,000 extra, Busbey said.

The city was forced to write-off a similar debt held by the Carnegie Art Center last year, which also zeroed out their appropriations. The city owns both buildings.

The budget also includes $317,975 to pay the city's portion of a $4.7 million debt associated with the Crossings of Decatur shopping center, where Target is expected to open next month.

The council made a single change to the budget presented by Kyle and Busbey during a work session Monday.

While the original budget included funding for an additional employee for the Information Systems Department, that item was dropped in the revision draft.

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