By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Millage rate down, other fees up?
The Richmond City Council, mayor and department heads got together this week to hash out the 2009 budget. They are projecting to lower the millage rate for the seventh year in a row.

Preliminary figures indicate that Richmond Hill will, for the seventh year in row, be lowering its millage rate and reducing property taxes, according to city officials.

Part of the equation, however, may be an increase in garbage collection and planning and zoning fees.

City of Richmond Hill department heads, along with the mayor, council and city manager, held a budget workshop meeting on Sept. 23 to go over projected figures for the city’s 2009 general fund expenditures, which tentatively total $7,550,000. City finance director Bob Whitmarsh said exact figures are not in yet because the city is still negotiating a fee with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, its benefits provider. The results of which may impact each department and will factor into how much the millage rate will change.

Councilman and Mayor Pro-Tem Floyd Hilliard complimented City Manager Mike Melton for setting a low millage rate followed by having each department tighten up their budgets in order to make it happen. Hilliard also complimented the department heads for cutting costs to make it a reality.

Council members voiced their preliminary approval for increased garbage collection and planning and zoning fees. Melton said the proposed garbage rates would still be very low, in comparison to neighboring cities. He said the city has not raised the rates for over a decade. Currently, the monthly rates are $6.75 residential and $10.96 commercial. The proposed rates are $11 residential and $15 commercial.

To the same effect, Planning and Zoning Director Steve Scholar said the proposed building, inspection and plan review fees would still be low in comparison to neighboring communities.

He said, for example, the increased amounts would equal about half of the county’s current rates and less than half of what Liberty County is charging for the same services.

Scholar said he had to balance the planning and zoning budget with some increased fees due to the impact from reduced construction.

He said there are only two major projects on the table for next year: Richmond Reserve and Colonial Marsh. He said if those projects do not take place, he may have to resort to additional cutback methods.

Scholar anticipates to pull in only 66 percent of the projected revenue for this year.

He had budgeted $344,000, but projects that he’ll wind up with only $233,000. This accounts for a 66 percent shortage, or $110,000 less than what he thought he’d make.

"There are a lot of reasons for that," Scholar said. "First and foremost is the economy. Building is down and this is an issue we can’t control. One thing we can control is fees … We haven’t increased those fees in quite some time."

In addition to fee increases, he is projecting a 6.7 percent budget increase ($786,748) for 2009.

Each department, except for administrative, had a slight increase in their 2009 budget projections, as compared to this year’s. Keeping in mind that numbers are subject to change, here is a breakdown of each department’s projections.

- Parks department: Parks director Harvey Lashley said revenue is up by 10 percent ($417,035) and is projecting a budget increase of less than one percent.

- Public works supervisor David Buchanan requested an eight percent increase due to increased costs in labor, fuel and electricity.

- City Clerk Ursula Lee said she was able to "tweak the general administration budget down to the bare minimum," to actually reduce that budget below five percent ($641,349 total) of what it was the year prior.

- Fire Chief Vernon Rushing presented a 6.67 percent increase, or $17,000 ($579,845 total), but "six percent of that is catching up salary budget to what it should be from a shortfall this year. We didn’t balance enough money for it this year." He said his fuel costs went up 25 percent as well.

- Police Chief Billy Reynolds presented a four percent increase ($2,920,084 total). He said the rising cost of fuel is a big factor. He is budgeting $125,000 for 2009 fuel, "and I don’t know if that’s going to cover it. We budgeted $80,000 for this year and we’ve already spent over 90 percent of that."

"We know we’re in tough economic times here, so my first guidance to department heads was getting your budget as tight as you can get it," Melton said. "And I want to compliment all of them because I think they’ve done a really good job. Everybody knows fuel costs are up significantly and revenues are down significantly. In terms of this year’s budget…we were still about $200,000 short … And there’s not really any place in the departments’ budgets to cut them any further."

Melton concluded that, by raising garbage collection and planning and zoning fees, the 2009 budget could be balanced.

No official action was taken as these actions, as well as more current figures, will be determined during future city council meetings.

Sign up for our E-Newsletters