Twenty-four years and counting: Fulton millage remains at 33

By ADAM ARMOUR
Staff Writer

For those who are counting it’s been 24 years.

For more than two decades, the City of Fulton’s millage rate has remained the same: 33 mils. Although that number hasn’t changed with the city’s recently adopted budget for the 2009 fiscal year, city clerk Lisa Russell warned — as she does every year — that a tax increase may be getting close.

“Our millage remained the same, for one more year anyway,” she said. “But, it stands to reason that it’s getting more and more difficult to not raise taxes.
Everything, it seems, pricewise is going up. Even when your sales and ad valorem taxes go up, it’s hard for them to offset increasing expenses — especially gas and diesel prices.”

Budgeting for the city’s fuel expenditures, Russell said, has been her biggest challenge. In fact, even with increased funding in many departments specifically for fuel expenses, last year’s budget has been significantly amended to cover overspending on gasoline.

For example, the street department alone overspent their budget last year by approximately $11,000, all of which was due to fuel costs. The same story can be told about the water department, which required an additional $5,000 added to its budget in order to cover the cost of fuel.

“It’s the biggest jump in our budget: Gasoline and diesel. It’s unreal what it’s costing the city to keep those vehicles on the road … When you take into account that we’re fueling 30 to 40 vehicles and probably 15 pieces of equipment like backhoes and trenchers, it can dip into your funds quickly.”

**Cutting costs**

“No department is buying anything this year,” Russell said. “We’re purchasing no new equipment. We’re just cutting back this year.”

According to Russell, much of the budget has been cut to the bone, eliminating extra expenditures and increasing only two areas: A three percent cost of living increase and fuel budgets. Although the total city expenditures are up this year due to various projects already under way, most of Fulton’s individual departments will be seeing cuts.

Helping to offset some of the increased expenses, however, is an increase in both sales tax — up approximately $30,000 over last year — and property or ad valorem tax, which is up about $40,000 from 2008.
This has been the case for several years running, has helped in maintaining that consistent millage rate.
Total city expenditures in the adopted budget are $12,489,240, up $520,345 from last year. These include expenses from all departments — including sewer, gas and water — as well as any other city expenses.

City hall is budgeted for a total of $907,655 this year, down $26,959 from last year. According to Russell, last year’s city expenses were high due to a $390,000 allotment of funds for the renovation of the downtown area and the completion of the city’s walking track.

The police department will see an increase of $19,745, bringing their budget to $720,405.

Budgeted for the fire department is $192,650, down from last year’s $230,730.

Emergency management will see a cut of $18,310, decreasing their budget to $58,740.

The street department will see its second large increase in two years’ time, up a total of $33,890 from last year to $912,875. This money represents funds needed to purchase fuel for the department’s many vehicles.

Animal control will see a relatively significant decrease to its budget this year, down from $4,300 to $3,300.

New to this year’s budget is the allotment of $15,000 for the old grammar school, to be used for the purchase of supplies for its programs.

Parks and recreation will see a small decrease of $10,634 this year, down to $220,975. This is the second consecutive year in which the department has seen a decrease to its budget.

The water department will see a decrease to $2,171,950, down $27,950 from last year.
Gas will see an decrease from $2,894,000 to $2,724,650.

The sewer system has a budget decrease of $38,000, totaling $577,800 for the year.
Finally, the sanitation department will see a slight increase, from $340,300 last year to $346,000.

According to Russell, although nothing definitive is planned, rising costs may force a millage increase in the future. She added that the board just has to keep cutting back where cuts can be made in order to keep costs low.

Adam Armour can be reached at 862-3141 or by e-mailing adam.armour@itawamba360.com.