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Porterdale facing huge budget shortfall
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The lack of any new building permits, a personnel shakeup and the governor's order to suspend a local grant have all contributed to what Porterdale officials say is a $200,000 budget shortfall for the city.

Porterdale City Manager Tom Fox briefed the city council on the budget shortfall at a work session last week and said they would have to find a way to balance the budget by the end of the fiscal year in December.

Fox said he told the council that they basically had two options: raise taxes and service rates or slash spending. Fox said he has been directed by the council to do the latter.

"My marching orders are to cut expenses," Fox said. "We will not be raising taxes to compensate for any deficits, any budget shortfalls."

Because the council is in a consensus that they don't want to raise taxes, Fox said it looks like the shortfall will have to be made by laying off city workers, possibly as many as three-full time employees.

He attributed the shortfall largely to the lack of any new building permits and no new sewer and water tap fees this year as the housing market has completely stalled in Porterdale.

Fox said when the budget was written for the year, city officials thought they were on the conservative side when they budgeted for at least 25 new houses being permitted in the year equalling $158,000 to the city from building permits and water and sewer tap fees.

"It was anticipated revenue that was not there," Fox said. "We've had literally zero [new houses]. We figured that we would have at least 25."

The city also had some additional unexpected personnel expenses this year when the city council, in a contentious decision at the beginning of the year, voted to not reappoint the city clerk, Shari Stevenson.

Councilman Robert Foxworth, who led the charge to not reappoint Stevenson, said it was because of her work performance. In 2005, Stevenson reported Foxworth for sexual harassment after another city employee told her some of Foxworth's actions were making her uncomfortable.

Because Stevenson had been employed with the city for five years, she had accumulated some benefits that had to be paid out when she was not reappointed Fox said. After Stevenson's departure, Fox said the city had to hire a temp service to help out around city hall - another unbudgeted expense.

Finally, the recent announcement by Gov. Sonny Perdue that he wanted to suspend the Homeowner Tax Relief Grant, a $428 million statewide program that reimburses local governments who provide a homestead tax exemption, is also factored into the city's budget shortfall.

Fox said the city was expecting to be reimbursed from $26,000 to $30,000 through the program. While other local governments are waiting to see if the Georgia legislature and the governor can come up with a compromise on the homeowner grant program, Fox said Porterdale was assuming they would not and the reimbursement from the state would not be coming.

Property tax bills for the city will go out in October.

Fox said he was compiling a list of recommendations for the council of ways they could cut back on expenses. He will be presenting the recommendations to the council at their council meeting on Monday.

"What they've asked me to do is go through the city budget and look for items that could be cut or suspended in order to lower the amount of money that's needed to balance the budget from contracted services," Fox said. "We've just got to look at all of the items."

In a perfect world, Fox said the city would be able to fund its deficit by spreading the shortfall around its property tax digest. However because the city has such a small property tax base, it would mean doubling the city's millage rate.

The city employs about 20 people Fox said. Their 2008 budget is $1,029,000 so the $200,000 shortfall makes up nearly 20 percent of their budget.

In the past several years the city has increased personnel expenses by turning a part-time police officer position into a full-time position and creating a part-time better downtown manager position.

"We've experienced increased costs -fuel costs, health insurance costs, general liability costs. All those are increasing and they're driving the budget up," Fox said. "Fuel prices have really just kind of blown the budget in those categories. That was the thing that we didn't anticipate."

In other Porterdale news, the city council is considering putting in place an ordinance that would penalize residents who wear their baggy pants too low.

"Some of our elected officials have gotten complaints," Fox said. "Mainly it's teenagers or young people wearing their pants so they're exposing their underwear. It's offensive to other citizens."

Fox said the council has directed the city's attorney to look into the feasibility of writing an ordinance that would require residents to not wear their pants too low.

"I think the ordinance would have to be carefully researched and pass constitutional muster before we would actually move to adopt it," Fox said.

If such an ordinance is passed, Fox said it would fall on the city's police department to enforce it.

Porterdale resident Gigi Shinall said she was in favor of the city passing a baggy pants ordinance.

"I think it's very inappropriate that the underwear is hanging out," Shinall said. "I think kids need to be taught that they should dress proper.

The Savannah City Council and the Atlanta City Council are also considering ordinances banning baggy pants that expose one's rear, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Fox said the city attorney may have something to bring before the council at their Monday meeting on the proposed ordinance.