MT. JULIET -- Mt. Juliet’s proposed city budget for fiscal year 2014-2015 is predicted to be larger than last year’s budget, due in part to already-funded expenses for the planned Eastern Connector carried over from last year’s budget, according to City Finance Officer John Rossmaier.
“This year, we will surely make substantial progress on that road,” he said.
A necessary downside of the upcoming city budget, however, is that the Sewer Department will have to raise its rates by 10 percent starting Aug. 1.
“We have the lowest sewer rates of any county in the area surrounding Nashville,” Public Works Director Jessica Gore told city commissioners last week. “And the current rate doesn’t cover the cost.”
The city pays fees to the Nashville sewer district for processing which add up to more than sewer bills bring in, she explained.
Rossmaier expects the city’s income from taxes and fees to be about $15.5 million for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. And while the city’s budgeted expenses are expected to be about $18.4 million, Rossmaier said, the city does have a fund balance that will cover the extra money.
The final draft of this year’s budget will go before city commissioners the week after next for their first reading on June 9.
The commissioners and Mayor Ed Hagerty held meetings this past week with city administrators to hear what their department needs and requests are. In most cases, the figures will be incorporated into the planned budget, but some cuts had to be made.
One example is the Parks and Recreation Department budget. Director Rocky Lee asked for $100,000 to create a master plan for city parks and greenways. While the commissioners agreed in principle that the plan would be valuable, they said not this year.
Fire Chief Erron Kinney told the commissioners and administrators he needs nine additional firefighters and another fire engine if they want him to take over responsibility for staffing and operating the firehouse that the city owns on Hill Street as well as the one that the city staffs on Belinda Parkway.
District 4 Commissioner Jim Bradshaw seemed to speak for the group when he said, “I’m not secure in affording this with no tax increase.”
Hagerty agreed, saying the city can’t afford more services until it has more residents and businesses adding to the tax income for fire service.
“We can’t say no new taxes one year and turn around and raise taxes the next year or two,” he added.
Kinney said he has tried to hold costs as low as possible and still open the second station. He also asked that the city be sure to complete its pending agreement with the Wilson Emergency Management Agency (WEMA) if it can’t afford to open the second station.
“If we wait to do this until later, we need to be sure we get things worked out with WEMA,” he said.
Police Chief James Hambrick followed the fire chief and said he was presenting a “bare-bones budget.”
He did request six new police cars and one additional patrol officer, saying that five of the new cars are needed to replace worn-out vehicles, and one for the new officer to drive.
Hambrick said he had hoped to hire four more officers, but when internal personnel shifts allowed him to put one more experienced officer on the streets, he decided he could add just one this year and try for another two next year.
The commissioners and Hambrick discussed the need for special rear seats and extra lighting in and on the vehicles, and finally decided to pay for those items. The extra lights make officers easier to see at traffic stops, so they are safer.
The special, one-piece rear seats made of fiberglass prevent suspects from shoving drugs or other contraband items down into the upholstery, and they’re easier to clean in the event someone gets ill, Hambrick explained.
He also told the commissioners that while the population of Mt. Juliet continues to grow, the crime rate in the city has remained the same for three years in a row.
Hambrick’s budget also covers animal control, which includes the animal shelter, the humane society and animal control officers.
“We spend about 50 percent over the national average on animal control,” District 2 Commissioner and Vice Mayor James Manness said, but he added that Mt. Juliet has one of the best records for animal control in the country.
As well as bringing the need to raise sewer rates by 10 percent before the commissioners so that the Sewer Department doesn’t go in the red paying Nashville for processing, Gore said the city needs to buy a new “portable” pump so when one of the pumps is down for servicing, the extra pump can pick up the overload.
Gore also reported that the planned realignment of Benton Douglas Road with Green Hill Road has been canceled, because funding from the state is not available.
Her department also oversees road construction, including the $4.1 million budgeted for the Eastern Connector.
Part of that project is funded by the state, but the city spends the money first, then the state refunds the costs.
“We didn’t go negative this year, but I’m predicting we will,” Rossmaier said. He pointed out that in the immediate past year, the city mostly funded the engineering studies and right-of-way purchase costs for the Eastern Connector.
But in the coming year, actual construction will start, and while Rossmaier expects it to take longer than one year, much of the work will be done in fiscal 2014-2015.
Correspondent Connie Esh may be contacted at email@example.com.