The Georgetown City Council approved its 2020-21 $21.3 million budget 6-2, clearly frustrating the mayor and members of the finance committee when it was not unanimous.
Councilwomen Karen Tingle-Sames and Polly Singer Eardley voted against the budget which anticipates using $4.4 million of the city’s reserves due to the pandemic shutdown. Tingle-Sames, who was mayor from 2007-2011, emphasized she was against using reserves and she felt there were places where the budget could be cut even more than it was.
“It’s a dangerous budget,” Tingle-Sames said. “We are repeating history. I’d like to see a tighter budget.”
Tingle-Sames said she remembers the difficult decisions she had to make as mayor because the city had no reserves at that time. Georgetown currently has about $10 million in reserves, but the pandemic shutdown has forced the city to consider dipping into the reserves. Prior to the budget vote, however, Mayor Tom Prather pointed out the city would likely receive some $2.4 million from the federal government through the CARES Act, and indications are, declines in the city’s revenues may not be as steep as had been projected.
Early projections had city revenues falling as much as 30 percent due to the pandemic, but revenues to-date are down only 14 percent, the mayor said. In 2019, payroll taxes to-date were $1.149 million, but this year the revenue is $983,000 or about 86 percent of last year’s revenue totals.
Finance committee member David Lusby could not hide his disappointment in the two negative votes.
“I’m a little bummed about the vote,” Lusby said. “I wanted it to be unanimous. We started looking at a $6 million shortfall, so we cut the budget shortfall to $4 million and now the Cares Act now may get us to less than $2 million shortfall.
“I have to ask. What would you do differently?”
“Any additional cuts would have required layoffs,” Prather responded to Tingle-Sames’ remarks about additional cuts in the budget.
Tingle-Sames addressed the mayor’s comment directly. “I’m not for layoffs,” she said. “I’ve had to do layoffs and that’s hard, so I’m not saying we should have layoffs. But there are a few places that should be looked at.
“We are going to have to take a look at (Georgetown/Scott County) Parks and Recreation. We can’t keep throwing people at Parks and Rec. The Pavilion is draining the city and the county. Maybe we should turn it over to the YMCA or something. We should be looking at recycling, code enforcement — maybe we should back off code enforcement during this. There’s little things here and there. Maybe we should privatize Public Works. We can’t keep going back into reserves. We’ve got to start doing things differently.”
The city budget includes almost $1.1 million for Parks and Recreation because many of its revenue generating services were closed by the pandemic shutdown. Parks and Recreation are jointly funded by the city and Scott County.
In previous discussions Prather has said he sees no reason to privatize Public Works because it “pays for itself,” but the city and county have been in talks to possibly turn recycling over to a private company.
“In life one of the reasons you have reserves is for situations like this,” Lusby said. “We’ve said we will continue to evaluate and make adjustments. To not support the budget at the very last minute… I don’t know.”
Prather remained quiet during much of the discussion but when Singer Eardley said she would vote against the budget he said, “I gave the budget to the council to review six weeks ago, and I received zero questions on the budget from the public or the council.”
Connie Tackett who is also on the finance committee agreed with Lusby.
“None of us know what the future holds,” she said. “This isn’t a perfect budget, but people are not perfect.”
Mike Scogin can be reached at email@example.com.