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July 23, 2014

Piedmont considers asking for help with city finances

‘Sometimes it takes some pruning’

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Posted: Friday, June 13, 2014 12:36 am | Updated: 4:53 pm, Wed Jun 18, 2014.

PIEDMONT — A penny saved is a penny earned, and Piedmont is looking for more of those pennies by considering asking for help from local finance experts.

City Council members met Thursday with staff from Jacksonville State University’s Center for Economic Development and Business Research to discuss hiring the center to analyze the city’s spending, and hopefully, find ways to save money.

Councilman Mark Harper had previously recommended the city bring in outside experts to help identify areas in the city’s spending that could be cut and to help find new ways to increase revenue.

Speaking at Thursday’s meeting, Harper asked whether, if it’s hired, the center could look closely at Piedmont’s budget and project what the city’s finances would like in five years.

“That way we know what we’re facing,” Harper said.

The problem Piedmont is facing is complicated and immediate, Councilman Frank Cobb explained. The city has lost jobs and seen its population decline in recent decades, Cobb said, and both have had an effect on the city’s revenue.

“We’re not really putting anything back to take care of our city,” Cobb said. “You’ve got to take care of your utilities. We have no money to buy equipment…everything needs to be on the table.”

In an April meeting, Water, Gas and Sewer Department Superintendent Jesse McKnight told council members that his department needs more than $23 million to pay for upgrades over the next five years.

Harper has called for city department to cut their spending by 10 percent, and Cobb has said he’d like the city to cut 25 percent of its expenses from its $3.5 million general fund, which he estimated would save the city about $1 million at the end of this fiscal year.

The city expects to bring in about $11 million in revenue in 2014, and spend roughly $10 million of that.

The purpose of Thursday’s meeting was to discuss the possibility of hiring the center, and not necessarily to talk about details of what sort of cuts could be made, but city officials did discuss some ideas.

Leasing the city’s garbage trucks instead of purchasing them could save the city thousands now spent on repairs, council members said, and there might be saving to be made by looking closely at city employee’s health insurance policies.

Mayor Bill Baker agreed with council members and said the need to cut spending and find new revenue is paramount.

“We’re going to have to make some hard decisions, and we realize that,” Baker said.

The problem of aging city equipment and infrastructure is only getting worse by the day, several council members said, and there’s simply not enough city money to fix the problem.

“We’ve got to do something to move forward,” Harper said. “If we can do this we might be able to help our citizens a little more.”

Baker said the council will have to vote at a future meeting on whether to hire the center. The analysis could cost between $12,000 and $15,000 to complete.

Jennifer Swafford, program coordinator for the center, said the report could recommend cuts that would cause some initial shock, but that in the long run would benefit city finances.

“Some things may be painful,” Swafford said. “But sometimes it takes some pruning to make roses grow.”

 

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