No tax increase in city budget

There will be no tax increase required for the City of Hazlehurst to have a balanced budget for the new fiscal year. But there will be some modifications from the budgets proposed by department heads, cautioned Mayor Henry Banks.

“We have to take a little from everybody,” Banks told the crowd at the budget hearing Tuesday evening. “The budget must be balanced.”

The biggest increases in all departments will be for gas and oil, explained Alderman Frank Pickering. Electricity for the water department is also expected to be a bigger drain on the city’s finances next year.

No raises for city employees are included in this year’s budget, but salaries may be looked at again in March when revenues pick up, according to the mayor. The city has left raises out of the budget for the past couple of years but authorized slight pay increases in the spring when they were sure the city could afford it.

Aldermen and citizens asked questions about the budget details during the hearing.

POOL PRICE INCREASE

One item of concern was a planned increase in the admission fee at the city pool, from $2 to $3. The city has incurred extra expenses this year due to equipment failures at the pool. The budget includes a fee increase to help cover maintenance costs next year.

One citizen asked the city to reconsider this matter, warning that an increase in fees would likely result in decreased attendance. Alderman Daryl McMillan also expressed objections to raising the pool admission.

The city collected $3,851.91 in pool admission and concessions this summer, through the end of July. Next year’s budget anticipates $5,000 pool income.

PATROL CARS

The new budget includes two new patrol cars for the Hazlehurst Police Department, but there is still some discussion between aldermen and the police chief over which model to buy. Chief Byron Swilley would like to stick with Crown Victorias, but aldermen instructed him to research a smaller more fuel efficient make.

“We’re looking at ways to cut expenses, especially with the cost of gas now,” said Pickering.

WATER SEARCH

The test well project still under way has hit two pockets of sand but results are not in yet, reported Pickering. The estimated cost of a new well and treatment plant is $700,000. The city is pursuing grants to cover this expense.

“We’ve got to have the water,” Pickering pointed out.

LIBRARY ATTENDANCE UP

Interim library director Katrina Castilaw reported that attendance at the Hazlehurst branch is unusually up for the summer months, with circulation at about 2300 per month. This is up significantly from prior years.

Castilaw pointed out that

although overall attendance is up, attendance by senior citizens has not increased. She reminded the aldermen that the library is climate controlled all year, offering a refuge from the heat of summer and cold of winter during the day for senior citizens who may need a place to go.

The library’s budget request for the new year is basically the same as last year, Castilaw reported.

OTHER BUSINESS

Throughout the budget hearing rain pelted into a trash can through holes in City Hall’s roof.

Fire Chief Gabriel Harvey asked the board to restore the $10,000 he requested for equipment in the budget. Aldermen told him that any safety equipment required by the state would be replaced as needed.

The Hazlehurst Board of Aldermen regularly meet on the first Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m.

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