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'Conservative budget' outlined for Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE — A 2 percent increase is proposed in what the mayor characterizes as a conservative city budget designed to maintain current services for the next fiscal year.

A combination of funds would increase the budget from $5.64 million this year to $5.75 million in fiscal 2009-10 in the proposal, under review by the budget committee.

The budget proposes eliminating a half-time position in the fire department and freezing staff salaries and medical allowances, the latter depending on union negotiations now under way.

"It's a pretty conservative budget. We just haven't had a lot of change," said Mayor Bruce Garrett. "Our budget was pretty fundamental to begin with. Our tax base hasn't changed dramatically."

Property owners would again be assessed at the rate of $1.84 per $1,000 of assessed value, the maximum the city can levy.

Much of the increase can be attributed to an Urban Renewal Agency fund that would rise to $291,300 from $203,321 to allow for purchase of land to add to the city's cemetery. Negotiations are underway with Chris Galpin to obtain property immediately north of the cemetery.

Taxpayers will get a break on the amount they pay on 30-year water system improvement bonds.

A requirement from the bond holder that the city have a large enough reserve to cover repayments in case of extreme financial catastrophe has been met. An estimate of next year's bond assessment shows that it should drop from 74 cents to 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Funding for public safety drops from $557,000 to $506,000 to reflect the final transfer of any police department expenses into the general fund. Public safety now includes only fire department costs.

The city has been separating police and fire department expenses over the last several years so the City Council can clearly compare costs of running its own department with those of annexing into Jackson County Fire District No. 3, a proposal the city may bring to the voters next November.

"The Economic Committee felt they wanted to have a real clear apples-to-apples discussion," said City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen.

Residents currently pay a $20 surcharge on utility bills to finance fire services.

The budget for parks and recreation is down $43,507, reflecting a more accurate estimate of taxes from Britt Festivals tickets.

"What it means is we're not building our reserves as fast as possible," said Wyntergreen. Reserves are low in most funds, he said, and won't be rebuilt in the coming year because of the economy.

The budget is set to be adopted at the June 16 council meeting.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboom8929@charter.net.