Suwanee adopts $12M budget, reduces property taxes

File Photo
The new police substation and training facility near Interstate 85 has been under construction most of this year, and city officials expect it to open in late summer. Its yearly operating cost is expected to be $54,050.

File Photo The new police substation and training facility near Interstate 85 has been under construction most of this year, and city officials expect it to open in late summer. Its yearly operating cost is expected to be $54,050.

Reader poll

How do you feel about how the adopted $12 million budget was handled by the Suwanee City Council?

  • It looks great. Wouldn't change a thing 40%
  • The city should spend more than 5 percent on economic development 40%
  • The SDS money should have been refunded to the citizens 20%
  • Arts and entertainment need more money 0%

5 total votes.

SUWANEE -- Looking to maintain a "high level of service," yet roll back the millage rate, Mayor Jimmy Burnette said this week that the city of Suwanee achieved that balance when it adopted a budget for fiscal year 2013.

In a unanimous vote by the City Council on Tuesday, Suwanee officials adopted a $12,002,440 budget, which is a 1.3 percent increase from last year's budget, and a 1 percent decrease in total revenues compared to 2012. In two public hearings last month, city manager Marty Allen spoke proudly that for the 10th straight year the city maintained or decreased property taxes.

The budget's expenditures are also 4.6 percent, or $584,631 less than last year.

"People expect a high level of service," Burnette said. "And we're able to meet the needs and quality of service people expect."

One highlight of the budget was a $642,429 payment from Gwinnett County as part of this spring's service delivery settlement. Allen said that money was treated as additional revenue and placed in a capital improvement fund to offset taxes elsewhere.

The millage rate, which is historically adopted in August, is expected to drop from 5.65 to 4.93 as property taxes would decrease by 13.5 percent.

"I think that's awesome," Councilman Doug Ireland said. "I think that's great, for the citizens, for the tax rate, everybody needs a little relief. Keep in mind, I'm a taxpayer, too."

The proposed budget also includes a 2.5 percent cost-of-living raise for employees, and a reduction in employer retirement contributions from 11 percent to 9 percent.

By department, the allocation of money is largely the same as last year, as the police department again receives the most money at 36 percent expected this year -- about $4.2 million -- versus 35 percent last year. All other departments are within 1 percent of the 2012 allocation. The next highest department for expenditures is Parks and Public Works at 16 percent, or $1.9 million.

"It's primarily maintaining current service levels," Allen said.

Among the police additions are two vehicles and 16 laptop computers. The new police substation near Interstate 85, which is expected to open in late summer, would have an operating cost of $54,050.

At the public hearings, Allen said other similar size cities might be envious that Suwanee's revenues are so evenly divided, that none of the five categories represent more than 27 percent.

Two personnel additions were part of this budget: a newly created part-time clerk position, and a promotion for building inspector Susan Carpenter to building official. The clerk's responsibilities are expected to be split between administrative duties at the city and at the municipal court. At a budget workshop in April, administrative services director Elvira Rogers said the number of trials increased by 45 percent from 2010 and 2011, and her department is the only one that doesn't have administrative assistance.

"I needed help," Rogers said.

For the first time in more than 10 years, the city elected to switch healthcare providers, a change that affects about 80 employees. The initial negotiations with BlueCross BlueShield began with a 33 percent spike in cost, so Allen said the city, through its insurance broker, switched to Cigna, which settled out to be a 9 percent increase.

Both providers offered an HMO and a PPO plan, but Cigna also included a high deductible health savings account plan.

A wellness program for city employees, which costs about $150 per employee, with a total cost of $14,100 would also be restarted.

The city is also looking to replace its 10-year-old computing software so it can better communicate with internal and external systems. The current system doesn't allow for bill payments, and doesn't interface with more sophisticated systems, Allen said.

"It's funny how quickly those systems become antiquated, because our system's only 10years old," Ireland said. "It was very much needed."

Also at the public hearings, Allen noted the upgrade of the city's credit rating by two agencies in the last year, Fitch and Standard and Poor.

"That's good council leadership," Burnette said. "It's expected, and the staff has done a good job of giving us the manpower that's needed, and a reasonable amount of employees. It takes a good, dedicated, professional staff to make it happen."