As 2008 ends, F’ville tightens its belt even more

Tue, 12/30/2008 - 5:06pm
By: Ben Nelms

As 2008 ends, F’ville tightens its belt even more

This year has been one for the record books, Fayetteville City Manager Joe Morton said during a year-in-review interview — the bad record books.

“I think the economy trumps everything this year,” Morton said. ”It was bad at the beginning of the year, but who would have predicted what happened in October and November and it’s still going on. It’s been a phenomenal year in the negative sense. And it obviously affects local government. It affects us the same way it affects businesses and individuals.”

As with other communities across Fayette and across America, Fayetteville’s two largest sources of revenue are sales taxes and property taxes. And mirroring much of America, Morton said people here quit spending in October as the slide in the economy intensified.

“Sales taxes have been devastated by what’s going on. People have cut back tremendously on their spending. I think the numbers for Christmas may even be lower than where people thought they’d be,” Morton said.

“Our second biggest revenue source are property taxes. We haven’t had a decrease in assessments. That’s where we’d run into problems. We would run into problems if we started going backwards in our tax rolls. We haven’t done that, but I don’t think we’re going to have much growth either. We are right at 4 percent for this year and we’re projecting much less for next year.”

Morton said other city revenue sources showing significant decreases came in areas such as building permits. And when combined with tax revenues, it makes for significant belt-tightening.

“Permit, fees, anything building-related is way off, even off of our budget projections which we had already reduced down. We’re even below those numbers,” said Morton. “We factor everything together, and we’re having to make adjustments in our budget just like families and businesses are having to make in theirs. We can’t control it on the revenue side, so we have to control it on the expense side. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. I don’t want to be doom and gloom, but I think the economy is the major negative story for 2008.”

Not unexpectedly, residential construction in Fayetteville came to a virtual halt during 2008. And though commercial projects have been in evidence, Morton said even those are now grinding to a halt.

“In fact, some of our projects are at a standstill,” Morton said, citing the retail shops at Grady Avenue and Ga. Highway 54 as an example.

Yet in the midst of it there are some positives, said Morton, such as Burks Square, which has another building underway.

Expansion is also evident at Piedmont Fayette Hospital where two floors are being added and an oncology center has been approved.

And back downtown, the Downtown Development Authority purchased the old Travis Hardware building, said Morton, and is hoping to have a restaurant utilize that space once the economy improves.

Morton said 2008 also brought a number of other positive accomplishments, such as the completion of the wastewater treatment plant upgrade.

“This was a big plus for the city,” Morton said. “When things do turn around we’ll have the capacity we need to serve Fayetteville from this point forward.”

Transportation-related projects also made significant headway in 2008, Morton said.

“Even though revenues related to the 1-cent sales tax are down, those monies are still coming in and are dedicated to those projects. So we’re going full steam on those,” said Morton.

One-cent sales tax efforts completed during 2008 include the Lanier Avenue pedestrian improvement project, the Jeff Davis/Ga. Highway 85/Ga. Highway 314 signalization and intersection improvements and the Redwine recreation path project. Morton said a project currently underway includes the Jimmie Mayfield widening done in conjunction with the county that should be completed in summer 2009.

Other transportation and pedestrian projects were in the design phase during 2008. Those include several sidewalk and path projects designed to enhance connectivity between neighborhoods and commercial centers and schools, such as the Booker Avenue, Ga. Highway 92 North, White Road, Lee Street and South Jeff Davis projects.

Coming in 2009 once Ga. Department of Transportation (GDOT) signs off will be a traffic light at Hwy. 85 and Lafayette, just north of downtown.

“We’re going to try to bypass some of the gridlock downtown,” Morton said, adding that the traffic signal would help but is not a long-term solution.

The city had proposed re-routing the flow of traffic along Lanier and Stonewall, but GDOT preferred the Lafayette traffic light. The time frame for installation could come in terms of weeks or months, Morton said.

Morton said the various road and pedestrian projects have provided a degree of work for local construction companies during the economic slowdown. And in terms of staffing, the city in 2008 was able to hire nine firefighters through a federal grant.

An issue that came near the end of the year is already showing a positive impact after voters in November approved Sunday alcohol sales inside city limits.

“There are several restaurants now that are open on Sundays that were not open before,” said Morton. “From the revenue standpoint, there is some increase from those restaurants being open. It may be minor, but each little bit helps.”

Perhaps as good as any year can be, at least in terms of property taxes, Fayetteville City Council in 2008 rolled back the millage rate and all the reassessments.

In all, 2008 in Fayetteville might not have been the best, but it could have been much worse. The big question, here as elsewhere, is what will 2009 bring?

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sam0917's picture
Submitted by sam0917 on Wed, 12/31/2008 - 8:37am.

What hasn't been mentioned in this article as well is that there will be no raises for the next TWO years for the employees of the city of Fayetteville. Also, they're on such a strict hiring freeze now so that if they loose any employee for whatever reason they will not be allowed to refill that position until the freeze is lifted or unless they get special permission. Let's remember that the raise issue affects the police and fire employees of the city of Fayetteville. So, they'll be serving and protecting you without getting anymore money for anything they do over the next two years. Please remember this for them and their families if you ever have to have contact with them. Hopefully, the actions mentioned in the article and the one's I've listed here will keep any of them from being laid off or having any hours taken away from them.

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