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Budget amendments help shore up Ahoskie funds

AHOSKIE – The Ahoskie Town Council at its February meeting adopted a trio of ordinances aimed at helping the town get its General Fund back in the black.

At the Jan. 24 meeting, Auditor Chris Burton of the accounting firm of Carr, Riggs, and Ingram presented the town’s 2015-16 audit report. The report showed the town had revenues of $5,216,398 and a total fund balance of $1,399,740; but at the end of the last fiscal year, the unassigned fund balance for the General Fund was minus $26,008, down from a plus $1,008,379 just one year prior.

At that same meeting, Councilman Justin Freeman recommended to Town Manager Tony Hammond that he revise the town budget for the remaining five months of this fiscal year, and that any recommended revisions be presented before Council at the February meeting.

Tuesday, Hammond said he and Town Finance Officer Patricia Bradley requested the town’s department heads look over their budgets, make a 10 percent cut recommendation, and after which he and Bradley would review it again for possibly more cuts.

“Out of the General Fund we took out $366,257 in both expenditures and revenues, but that was Capital Outlay and that kind of a wash, but it was still expenditures and revenues we took out of there,” Hammond told the Council. “On the Enterprise Fund side we took out $100,891 in Capital Outlay.”

Hammond’s recommendations were rolled into the first of three budget amendments (Ordinance 2016-2017-7) for the Council’s consideration.

The Town Manager recommended another amendment ordinance (2016-2017-8) that would decrease both revenues and expenditures in the General Fund by $264,200.

“Out of that (amount), all of the department heads split that,” he noted. This was among the departments of Governing Body, Administration, Planning/Zoning, Public Works, Police, Fire, Streets, Environmental/Sanitation, and Recreation.

“We took the revenues first, expenditures then matched,” Hammond said.

Councilman Justin Freeman asked how operations would be impacted by the cuts.

“It’s not ham-strung,” Hammond answered. “It’s the lowest hanging fruit – the bottom line; probably more in line with the bare bones of last year – gasoline spending, materials and maintenance, office supplies – the only things we tried not to mess with were telephone services, electricity, utilities, things like that, since we have no idea what those things might be because they go up and down.”

“We’re not going to have any less police service than we had before, then,” Freeman inquired.

Hammond noted that among the departments there were some vacancies that had not been filled, but the cuts would not leave any of the departments short-staffed.

“In the time lag between when they left and when they filled them you’ve got a gap of money that didn’t get spent,” Hammond said. “It’s free, and that’s the money we took; money that won’t be spent because that time has already gone away and there’s no one working those hours, so that’s money in that fund that won’t be used because its already gone. We’re talking about past experience didn’t get spent, the future money is still there.”

Several department heads attended the meeting (Fire Chief Ken Dilday, Police Chief Troy Fitzhugh, Public Works Director Kirk Rogers, and Wastewater Director Stewart White).

“We’re able to do what we’re able to do,” said Fitzhugh, who said he’s awaiting filling two police vacancies. “We’re working with other agencies.”

“The backpacks we ordered back in (the fall) are already here, and they’re in service,” said Dilday.

“So we’ve streamlined our budget, but we haven’t lost any essential services,” said Councilman C. David Stackhouse.

Businessman Quinton Turman, speaking as a private citizen, asked if there would be an increase in town utilities payments (water bills).

“Not at this time,” answered Mayor Jimmie Rowe.

The final budget ordinance calls for decreases in both revenue and expenditures in the Enterprise Fund totaling $179,000 from a combination of Water & Sewer and Wastewater.

Department head Stewart White said the belt tightening included some used equipment he’d wanted to purchase (a 2004 hay-bailer and cleaning equipment for the treatment tanks).

“It was going to cost me $30,150, but we just took that out of the budget and we’re going to continue to operate and I think we’ll be fine, if it doesn’t break down.” White said. “We’re appreciative of having a job, we’re not losing positions and we appreciate all the efforts that have been done.”

Hammonds reminded Council that the debt service for the new Wastewater Treatment plant would be dropping significantly in the next four years; money the town will save as it comes off the books.

“All total, when you look at the Capital Outlay and the revenues and expenditures that we took out, it’s a little over $850,000,” Hammond acknowledged.

“So what is your opinion on how our finances will look at the next audit,” asked Councilman Justin Freeman.

Hammond said he felt the cuts would finish the town in the black for this year as far as the town’s next audit.

“We don’t know yet on the Enterprise Fund side what the impact will be on the new (water) meters that will be put in, but I can tell you that they will increase our revenue,” Hammond declared.

When Councilman Charles Freeman asked if the information had been put in letter form to be sent to the Local Government Commission (LGC), Hammond reminded them the town has 45 days within which to respond.

“So this is leading us in a positive direction,” Freeman reiterated.

Turman returned to the podium and asked Council if the town was being ‘re-active’, or ‘pro-active’ as far as the town’s future.

“Very pro-active,” said Rowe. “Anything negative is bad.”

Stackhouse then made a motion to approve the full Consent Agenda, which included the budget amendment ordinances; and the drafting of a letter to be sent to the LGC affirming the town budget would be brought in line. Before the second to the motion was given (by Justin Freeman) and the vote cast, there was one last query from the floor about possible rate changes. The Council said any discussion regarding that topic would have to be taken up at budget time in June.

Discussion then ended, and the full Consent Agenda was approved unanimously.