Toccoa Approves FY 2014 Budget

The city of Toccoa approves its Fiscal Year 2014 budget more than a month before the deadline.

Monday, city commissioners unanimously approved the $32 million budget for the Fiscal Year that will start on July 1.

The budget has to be approved on or before June 30 and last year, the city worked on the budget well into June.

Toccoa Mayor David Austin said it is good to have the budget in place this early.

“We sort of streamlined the process this year,” said Austin. “It went very well. We had the data supplied by the city manager for us to review and it was a good process.”

The city’s $32 million budget for next fiscal year is about 7.5 percent, or $2.2 million, larger than last year. Toccoa City Manager Mike Jackson said most of that increase is in the gas and water funds.

Toccoa’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget calls for no change in the millage rate. Austin said he is pleased about that and added that the city commission will continue to look for ways to further reduce the millage rate in the future.

On the rate side, the budget includes two rate changes already approved by city commissioners.

One of those is a 3-cent-per unit hike on gas bills in order to pay for relocating the gas lines along Highway 17. Austin said that once that project is paid for, the rate will go back down.

The other rate change increases the water rate for a county customer across the board to 1.25 times the rate of a city customer.

Stephens County Commissioner Dennis Bell again called on city commissioners to re-consider that Monday.

Bell said he does not feel it is right.

“Times are hard, they are real hard,” said Bell. “I talked with a lot of folks in the county and some in the city and they said they could put ½ percent (increase) and go city-wide and county-wide, they would feel that would be fair.”

However, Austin said he is comfortable with the decision to raise rates on county water customers only.

“I think it is fair to the citizens of Toccoa because the citizens of Toccoa, because they live inside the city limits, should get a better rate for their water,” said Austin. “They are benefiting by this, instead of having everybody’s water increase, we increased those outside (the city) because it does cost more money to service outside (the city). At the same time, when you start looking at other municipalities within this northeast Georgia area, some of the county residents are paying double what the city counterparts pay. We are very competitive on our rate structure.”

The city’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget includes no new personnel, but does provide funding for salary increases.

However, instead of an across-the-board increase, Toccoa City Manager Mike Jackson said the city will focus pay increases towards those on the lower end of the city’s pay scale, as well as implement merit-based increases as part of implementing a pay and classification plan that city commissioners also unanimously approved Monday.

Austin said he is happy to see the city begin implementing such a pay plan.

“We have been losing, particularly in the police and fire area, officers because they can go other places (and make more),” said Austin. “We are trying to shift that money towards the lower end (of the pay scale) and get those people up to a better wage, so they will not leave the city of Toccoa.”

Jackson said the city’s goal is to bring as many employees up to the minimum pay for their job as defined in the pay plan as possible this upcoming fiscal year.

Toccoa’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget also includes funding for some vehicle replacements in the city’s fleet, as well as for some investment in compressed natural gas vehicle technology.