Florala plans budget cuts in wake of audit problems

Published 1:53 am Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Florala’s Monday night budget workshop painted a grim economic picture for the municipality after Mayor Robert Williamson said the city doesn’t have enough money to pay its bills.

“If we paid every bill we owe, we’d be $120,000 in the hole,” Williamson said. “We have to evaluate everything we do and look at it piece by piece. There are checks written on the desk that we can’t send because we’d be bouncing them.”

As proposed, the $1.6 million budget looks to be cut by 5 percent, as Williamson explained to the council. Revenues — namely sales tax revenue — will be down from projected totals.

“I’m of the opinion that we wouldn’t appropriately plan for the future if we did not count on less (money),” he said.

And the future is uncertain for Florala as the council attempts to undergo the budget process without the assistance of a city clerk, a position not expected to be filled until early December. In October, city officials received the results of its annual audit that uncovered numerous issues in the way the city handled its money, one of which cost the city nearly $8,000 in insufficient fund fees.

A reoccurring theme throughout the year’s audit findings stated, “The city did not have adequate control” over its financial situation. It also stated the cause of the findings could be attributed to “lack of personnel during the fiscal year with sufficient knowledge” of how to do the city’s accounting.

During Monday’s meeting, council members made strides in achieving control of the city’s financial situation when they eyed line item expenditures, examining where cuts could be made and ways to increase revenue.

Some of the items examined included utility expenses such as heating and cooling, the number of phone lines issued to the city and whether or not the city needed to discontinue the use of a Pitney Bowes mailing machine.

“These may be petty cuts, but they’re savings,” he said. “There are a lot of unknowns that we’re facing and we have to be realistic in our approach.”

Council members agreed with Williamson’s prognosis.

“Even though those cuts are small, they add up,” said Councilman Jimmy Waldrop. “And those smaller parts can add up to a substantial amount.”

On the revenue side, Williamson said the city does not have many options when considering areas to generate revenue; however, one avenue available is business license revenue. During its last regular meeting, the council voted to increase business license fees across the board by 15 percent. Further research into the matter determined that the city must first adopt an ordinance setting an appropriate fee schedule for each specific license. Councilwoman Hazel Lee is currently in the process of compiling the information to be presented to the council. It is unknown how much additional revenue will be generated by the measure.

And while no specific decision was made on whether or not to include a 3 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for all employees in the new budget, everyone agreed they would like to see each employee rewarded for their hard work.

The night’s meeting was the first of a series of budget workshops. The next is scheduled at 6 p.m. Mon., Nov. 24. These meetings are open to the public.