Estimated surplus in millions

Published 10:21 pm Wednesday, September 16, 2009

City officials on Wednesday announced a preliminary surplus of an estimated $3 million to $5 million on the books as of June 30.

The preliminary figure in the last fiscal year came as a result of saving on various expenses where feasible.

“It didn’t come without a lot of hard work,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said, praising city staff.

The figure is the early estimate of an audit that will be completed in October, Finance Director Dale Walker told the city council on Wednesday. That figure, Walker said, is a snapshot of the city’s position on June 30.

“Recognizing, though, this is just a glimpse of one day,” Walker said.

Council members almost immediately began thinking of ways to use the excess money.

“I’ve spent the last two weeks looking at piles of trash,” Johnson said. “We’re going to have to do something.”

Since a new fee for bulk trash pickup was instituted in July, Johnson said, she has noticed more piles of refuse in front of homes that are not picked up.

“I just kept thinking they would go away,” Johnson said of the piles.

Bulk refuse collection service, which was free before July 1, now costs residents $20 for up to eight cubic yards of material, and $50 for nine to 16 cubic yards of material. Residents must call the treasurer’s office to pay for the service at least two days in advance. Since the fee was implemented, several residents have come to council meetings and written to city staff to say they never knew about the proposal until they put trash out to be picked up and received a notice on their door.

City officials hoped the new fees would save the city more than $600,000.

Johnson said she thinks the city needs to keep charging for people who want to have it picked up on a certain day, but should explore the option of a monthly or once every two months pickup day when trash would be picked up for free.

Councilman Charles Parr noted the money also could be used to resolve technology issues and pad the rainy-day fund.

Councilman Charles Brown reminded his fellow council members that the numbers are preliminary, and cautioned them not to get ahead of themselves.

“Never count your money at the table,” he said.

Council members, however, said they were simply exploring options of what could be done if the estimate turned out to be realistic.

The council voted unanimously to direct the city manager to provide a report on what could be done with the money.