It’s a proposal several council members have been discussing since at least 2016, but one that may finally come to fruition when the City of LaGrange’s 2022-2023 FY budget is finalized in June.
During City Council’s preliminary review of the budget on Tuesday, it sparked a long-awaited discussion about “weaning” area agencies off of city funds – ultimately saving the city hundreds of dollars. thousands of funds and prohibit the need to incur a proposed gas tax increase for municipal ratepayers. This proposed increase for all City customers was to be 6.1% per residential customer or 4.5% for business customers. Ultimately, about 7,500 gas customers could pay up to $67 more on their gas bills per year.
“The cost of commodities has risen so dramatically it will feel to residential customers like a 20.9% increase [and] 23% increase for commercial customers,” said Meg Kelsey, manager of LaGrange City. “The customer area is already feeling the price of gas.”
The alternative to this increase was not to fully fund LaGrange’s various charitable or associative agencies. According to city documents, 21 area agencies — including Harmony House, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, LaGrange Art Museum and DASH, to name a few — received combined funding of $430,843 in the city’s budget. fiscal year 2021-2022. With increasing operational costs across the board, agencies requested a combined total of $497,860 in the 2022-23 fiscal year budget, an increase of over $67,000.
Some agencies like the Red Cross only asked the city for $12,660, while others like DASH asked for up to $100,000. Communities of Tomorrow had the highest request of $90,000, a 152% increase from its funding request of $15,900 for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. DASH had the second highest demand. One agency, Women of the Church, receives free utilities from the city but has not applied for new city funding.
The consistency among board members was to halve the funds requested from agencies for the next fiscal year 2023, but also to further eliminate their funding by the next fiscal year 2024. The board said it would only fund no new agency, but that it would continue to fund the former Boys and Girls Club, which was renamed West Georgia Star Youth Program after the organization lost charter status earlier this year, throughout the current fiscal year.
Council member Jim Arrington eventually spurred the proposal, suggesting that the council cut each agency’s funding by 50% and then halve again the following year until they are completely weaned from the financial support of the city. With the reduction, the city would pay only $189,030 – a budget saving of $307,000.
“I don’t want to just pull the rug out from under them … [but] every year since I’ve been on the board, we’ve talked about agency self-sufficiency,” Arrington said as the reason for the decrease suggestion.
Council members Mark Mitchell and Nathan Gaskin echoed Arrington’s suggestion, expressing concerns about how some organizations handled city-granted funds and how funding agencies affected ratepayers. .
“When you talk about going up [residents] rate vs giving money, it just doesn’t make sense,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell expressed concern about the use of city funds for some agencies. Future communities, he noted, use cashier’s checks while other agencies use traditional bank accounts. He said he would agree to continue partially funding the organization if they opened a more traditional bank account.
“We gave them $15,900 last year and they only spent $7,500 on checks,” Mitchell said. “Where’s the rest of the money?” We have no way of knowing where he went.
Board members expressed reluctance to ax certain agencies such as West Georgia Star due to their work rebranding the Boys and Girls Club and DASH. DASH operates the LaGrange SOUL program, a pilot program that helps low- and middle-income residents pay higher-than-average utility bills by improving energy efficiency. A portion of the funds saved through the program goes to homeowners while another portion goes to the city. However, due to the condition of some houses, there were not enough funds in the city’s community development fund to modify them all.
“Ultimately, the [SOUL program] did not generate the return that I think council expected,” Mayor Jim Thornton said. “We have a lot of houses in the city that are in poor condition, they are almost uninhabitable. Every city deals with this and there is no easy solution. I think this is an issue we need to be aware of.
Board members expressed consistency in removing DASH from the general fund as an agency, but reallocating community development funding. DASH is planning duplex housing and a singular subdivision at the intersection of Cherry Street and Peachtree Street. The property, which is owned by the Callaway Foundation, would provide rental income to DASH.
“[DASH] is looking for ways to be self-reliant and this is one of those ways,” Kelsey said. “They asked, if the board decides not to continue with the SOUL program, would the board award them the rest [$390,000] in the [community development] funds to build these units.
Arrington also expressed reluctance to not fund Harmony House, a domestic violence shelter in LaGrange, due to its consistent use by the LaGrange Police Department. With the half-cut, the city would still fund the organization $12,500 in fiscal year 2023.
“If we use them enough, we don’t need to put that burden on [LPD] then cut [Harmony House’s] budget,” he said.
An alternative presented to further avoid the gas rate increase included eliminating the city’s curbside services, which currently cost the city $158,000 a year.. Residents would still have the option of bringing their recyclables to the combined city and county recycling center at 530 S. Davis Road. Recycling bins would be converted into traditional trash cans. No vote was taken, but by discussion council agreed to stop curbside service from July 1. Customers will receive advance notice.
Two public meetings regarding the budget will take place on June 14 and 28. The budget will be finalized following the second public hearing.