GEORGETOWN — In the coming fiscal year, town property taxes will not increase and town employees will receive all requested wage-adjustment increases, thanks to sacrifice and a balancing act that reduced a potential $2.4 million budget deficit to zero.
On Wednesday, by a 5-0 vote, Georgetown mayor and council formally adopted the town’s fiscal year 2022 operating budget, balanced through two workshops held in April. The town’s fiscal year runs May 1 through April 30.
The balanced budget weighs in at $7,586,752.
An initial budget workshop showed a potential deficit of $2,389,575, based on the projected $7.5 million in revenue and $9.9 million in expenses.
But at the close of a second workshop Monday, the deficit stood at zero, largely through sewer impact and other account transfers, a realty transfer tax contribution and cuts to budget requests.
Big-ticket cuts during the workshop’s axing included a pole building for public works, three additional police department hires and a sallyport for the police facility.
Therefore, the town’s current tax rate — $3.17 per $100 of assessed value — will not change, and town employees will receive all increases.
“I think this has been very productive and positive,” said Vice Mayor Rebecca Johnson-Dennis.
Councilwoman Angela Townsend added that “employees will benefit from this,” while Laura Givens, a member of the town’s finance department said, “It includes all the requested amounts.”
Town leaders had considered a 6-cent tax increase that would generate just over $30,000 in budget-balancing efforts.
In addition, council had looked at $26,000 in savings by removing additional percent increases for town staff, while leaving consumer price index increases and anniversary adjustments in place.
“I think there are other places we can save money to offset that. I just don’t think we need to take it from our employees,” said Councilman Penuel Barrett. “I deal in business every day. It’s hard to find good employees. We’ve got good employees in the town of Georgetown, but we need to keep them.”
Director of Public Works Bill Bradley added, “I think we’re running on bare bones right now. Me, as public works director, I don’t need another increase. I’ll stay where I am at but give it (to) my guys. I’ll give mine up in a heartbeat.”
Councilwoman Townsend spoke from experience about the potential cuts.
“I’ve talked to the town employees, and I know where I am coming from,” she said. “I have been an employee once with the town. So I know what it is like to work for the town. Our employees go above and beyond. A lot of employees have saved us money, especially in the public works department. It seems like whenever there is cuts, it’s always salaries. It seems like the employees are always the ones that get … the short end of the stick.”
When all was said and done, fund transfers from various accounts, including $817,149 from sewer impact fees, accounted for nearly $1.2 million.
At the Monday workshop, Georgetown Town Manager Eugene Dvornick reminded council that the town “will be in the same position next year. But we will have significantly less debt, so that will help us. Hopefully, with the American Rescue Plan, we’ll be able to get a lot of infrastructure projects done without having a significant impact.”
The town is awaiting direction from the state on the ARP monies and the estimated $3.85 million it is to receive. The funding is earmarked for water, sewer, broadband and infrastructure.
“Once we get guidance from the treasury department on exactly what we can use it for, (we’ll know more). It’s to get projects done,” Mr. Dvornick said.
Councilman Barrett said he has been asked by residents why the budget deficit is so large. “And it just didn’t happen overnight,” he said.
Mr. Dvornick explained that large potential deficits at the start of the budget process have not been uncommon in recent years.
“The last several years have always presented a budget with a significant deficit, and then, we balance it. I think if you look at our total budget, the largest expense area is in the personnel payroll, employment benefits, as well fringe benefits,” he said. “Every year we have had a significant deficit, when we put our budget together, … then we balanced it.”
Ms. Givens agreed.
“The draft is, all department heads put in … what they would like. And then, the $2 million is cutting it down. A lot of our department heads … they look at their line items, and they were able to reduce a number of those line items,” she said. “You could probably think of the first (budget) presentation as their wish list, as far as what they would need. Then, we dwindle it down as far as want — and actual need.”
Mr. Dvornick reminded council that in the past, the town “put 100% of the realty transfer tax into the operating budget, and then, that was all spent,” he said. “It wasn’t until after the housing crisis in 2008 we started to save the realty transfer tax monies.”