New Columbus Budget Accounts For Economic Times

By Lindsey Connell - bio | email | Twitter

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -  Without any objection, the Columbus City Council adopted a budget of more than $200 million Tuesday for the upcoming fiscal year.

Mayor Jim Wetherington says he and members of the council were forced to play it safe this time around especially when it comes to spending.

"This is a tough economic time obviously and I've asked all of the department heads to cut back on travel to conferences and what have you. Let's just do what is absolutely necessary. This is a tight budget year this year and we're going to have to tighten our belts," he said.

And with this new operating budget, there's good news and bad news for city employees.

"No furloughs, no layoffs, our healthcare is the same. We weren't able to give our employees a pay increase because of the economic conditions but we'll look at it again in the mid year," the Mayor added.

Close to $1million is going to create a brand new city office to go along with the Mayor's Local Option Sales Tax campaign. The Office of Crime Prevention will have a director and board appointed by the mayor and council.

The Mayor says the first step is to hire the director. He is putting together a job description for the position.

"I'll have to bring it back to council and get approval. They'll look at the job description and salary and after that we'll start looking."

The budget for fiscal year 2010 goes into effect on July 1, 2009.

The mayor says he will have a job description for the director of the Office of Crime Prevention to council in the next two or three weeks.

Council also budgeted close to $200, 000 to start a recycling facility on Victory Drive.

That's because the city's 15 year contract with Goodwill ends at the end of this month so that way, the city will be able to continue curbside recycling to thousands of participants.

Another integral part of the budget is the tax millage rate which is used to calculate how much money the city needs to collect in taxes

Under the new budget, the tax millage rate will change.

But thanks to the property tax freeze in Columbus, the adjustments won't be hurting taxpayers wallets.

Officials say there's an increase in tax millage but that's because the city is getting more money in taxes thanks to new businesses and homes that have been built in the past year.

Bottom line, they say current homeowners won't be paying more when it comes to their property taxes.

"Residential property owners will not see a property tax increase as a result of a property tax freeze that was enacted many years ago and so at the time they bought their homes and filed for homestead exemption their property tax froze at that point so this does not impact them," explained City Manager Isaiah Hughley.

Also in Columbus, local hotels are now a little more expensive.

Council members voted today to raise the city's Hotel/Motel Tax from seven to eight percent.

Officials say the extra money will go back into the community and help boost local sports tourism.

The raise will go into effect August 1, 2009.