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Andalusia Council passes budget

The Andalusia City Council passed the FY 2004 budget at the meeting last night, one that, for the third year in a row, shows only a 4 percent increase.

"Which I think is outstanding," said Mayor Earl Johnson. "Considering we've had cost increases, our insurance is going up 24 percent."

Andalusia uses the state's insurance program and because of increased claims in the past year, Johnson said premiums have also increased. Johnson also told the council that the insurance increase was unusual, and that for the first two or three years in the state program, the city saved money.

The total for this year's budget is $10,166,380, with a contingency fund, required by law, of $1,016,638.

"That is just slightly above last year's budget," said Johnson. At the council meeting, he told the councilmen that compared to other cities similar to Andalusia, the four percent increase was very good.

"We're on the low side," he said.

In a private interview between the councils' workshop and regular meeting, Johnson said he had heard concerns from citizens about the amount of work being done in the town and what it would be costing the city.

"Most of that work has been done with grant money," Johnson said. "Except for occasional matching funds. We have been able to make significant improvements on the infrastructure."

One significant change in this year's budget was the shifting of operating costs for the utilities to the utility board.

"That's where they belong," said Johnson.

There were few other changes, and in a time when state and local governments are having to slash budgets and restrain expenditure, the items that remain relatively unaffected are surprising.

"We haven't cut anybody's salary. In fact, annual raises will continue as expected," said the mayor. "Our sales tax revenue has continued to increase. Our sales tax revenue is 10 percent over what it was 10 years ago. We're very fortunate and very pleased with that."

Johnson said that there was a small drop in revenues expected from tobacco and gasoline tax.

"I think you can attribute that to the fact the tobacco use is down and with the high prices we've seen on gas, people simply aren't buying as much," he said.

Johnson also stated that the building licenses were up and said at least $12 million in building projects are going on in Andalusia at any given time.

"Our economy continues to expand," he said. "Our city is in a very sound position, in very good shape."

The budget compiled by department heads and submitted to the mayor showed a deficit of more than $3.3 million dollars. Working with the department heads and councilmen, Johnson revised the original plan and presented a balanced budget, which passed unanimously. Most departments sacrificed a few thousand dollars hear and there, but not a single dollar was cut from the proposed education monies.

"We have not cut education at all," said Johnson, who said education receives a significant portion of the general fund budget. The city has budgeted $1,168,000 for schools this year.