City of Piedmont seal

PIEDMONT — City leaders finalized the details of a draft 2018 budget for Piedmont on Tuesday, three months after their current fiscal year started.

The Piedmont council is set to vote Jan. 16 on the proposed $11.64 million barebones budget after months of debate on spending cuts and ways to raise revenue.

The called Tuesday budget meeting was not without its own debate, with council members mainly concerned about the draft budget’s approximately $500,000 deficit, which will be offset by money transferred from the city’s utilities department. Spending in the budget is based off what the city spent in each department the previous year.

While the city’s fiscal year started in October, because of its size, state law does not require that the city pass an annual budget.

“I just can’t get past this $500,000 deficit … we need to be making more changes in drastic ways,” said Councilman Greg South.

Councilman Bobby Hardin also expressed concern about the deficit.

“I still can’t wrap my mind around about how basically we’re short,” Hardin said, referring to revenue. “Right now we’re facing more going out than coming in.”

Mayor Bill Baker tried to reassure council members that any concerns about spending could be addressed as they arise.

“All I can say is this is a projection and if we need to amend it as we go along, we’ll adjust that,” Baker said.

Michelle Franklin, city clerk, said she’d continue working with department heads to ensure they don’t overspend.

“We’ll have department head meetings every month and I’ll have a copy of actuals for them so they’ll know what money they’ll have to play with,” Franklin said. “And if they need something, they’ll have to come before the council.”

The council has already taken some steps to curb spending this fiscal year. The council approved a hiring freeze for all departments last month.

The council in December also created a reserve fund to save money for any city equipment needs that might arise unexpectedly. Also, the council in October raised registration fees for some youth sports offered by the city parks and recreation department.

During the meeting some council members proposed ideas to raise more money for the city.

Councilman Doug Dickeson suggested the city impose fees on pet owners whose animals are roaming and are picked up by the city.

Franklin she would work to draft some kind of animal fee ordinance.

South suggested the city offer incentives for entrepreneurs to open businesses in historic downtown Piedmont. South, who with his wife operates Solid Rock Cafe downtown, said the city could offer reduced utility rates to someone who opens a business in a vacant, historic building, for example.

“Right now downtown is practically a ghost town, so we’re not getting anything,” South said, referring to utility and sales tax revenue. “If we offer incentives and bring businesses downtown, that’ll help generate revenue.”

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.