By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
At the Trenton City Commission’s December meeting Monday night, Mayor Anthony Emanuel announced that despite rosier predictions in previous months, the city now looks like it will end the year some $100,000 in the red.
The mayor also made it clear how the shortage would be remedied: “Let there be no doubt, 80 percent of our expenses are directly related to headcount,” he said. “We’ve made some adjustments in personnel, and more may be coming.”
Starting the Dec. 10 meeting as he generally does with an exhaustive examination of Trenton’s current financials, Emanuel said the city had done an overall good job trimming spending but not good enough to counteract deficits on the income side. “Our financial woes are not due to our expenditures as much as they are due to the drop-off in revenues,” he said.
Emanuel blamed that decrease on disasters outside his control. “When you lose a major industry, when you lose houses, you lose revenue,” he said, referring to the Shaw plant closure earlier as well as to last year’s killer tornados.
He sought and received the commission’s approval to amend the city’s 2012 budget to reflect actual experience. He also gained approval for a proposed 2013 budget that he said represented no major changes from this year’s.
“We are optimistic that 2013 will be a better year than 2012,” he said. He also commented that Trenton was in a much better position than it was 11 months ago.
The mayor took office in January, after defeating incumbent Barton Harris in the 2011 election.
The 2013 zero-balanced budget calls for general fund revenues and expenditures of $1.38 million, a sewer fund figure of $300,000, and hotel-motel income/expenses of $27,000.
The city commission, minus Police Commissioner Sandra Gray, absent from the meeting for day-job reasons, also voted to approve an intergovernmental agreement with Dade County for collection of an excise tax on energy use by industry – but only after a lengthy discussion.
Mayor Emanuel explained that Georgia, which had previously collected the tax and distributed the proceeds to the counties, was phasing it out beginning in January, giving counties and municipalities the option of collecting it on their own. Parks and Recreation Commissioner Chuck Cannon questioned why normally fiscally conservative bodies like the county and town would elect to do so, as a tax on industry might discourage new business from locating here.
Emanuel said that Dade, like many other counties, had decided to opt in because it was unknown how much revenue would be lost by not collecting the tax.
How was it possible not to know? asked Cannon. “How does it come to us? Through what means?” he asked.
County Clerk Lucretia Houts said it was probably included in the sales tax collected by the state and remitted thence to the smaller governing bodies, in Trenton’s case an annual figure of about $500,000.
Emanuel read through the literature as he tried to answer Cannon’s question. “They’re guessing it’s between 5 and 25 percent of our sales tax,” he said.
“That’s terrible accounting,” said Cannon. “They should be ashamed.”
Fire and Utility Commissioner Tommy Lawson speculated that possibly somebody in the state government could figure it out, but was not letting on.
In the end, however, the commissioners voted to approve the intergovernmental agreement, with the caveat that they were only agreeing to consider an ordinance to collect the tax, and could still opt out.
As a necessary bookkeeping measure, Lawson asked for and received approval to move $3,000 from the sewer’s capital improvement fund to its capital purchases section.
Streets Commissioner Greg Houts informed the mayor that, despite the city’s willingness to pave a short dirt road in the Glenbrook neighborhood, the project could not proceed until it was determined who owned the road.
He explained to the Sentinel later that the owners of the four or five houses on the road were all eager for the city to pave, but that the developer who had built the houses had long since died and that subsequent ownership of the road itself was far from clear.
Houts and the mayor agreed to take the matter to the Dade County Assessor’s office to determine ownership, and to proceed from there.
Additionally, Houts said his department was mostly cleaning up leaves now but would resume paving after the holidays. The mayor said the city disliked burning leaves, that they make great compost, and that anybody wanting leaves for their garden should contact City Hall (707/657-4167).
On the subject of gardening, Eloise Gass of Trenton Tree City reported two flowerbeds had been planted in Jenkins Park as well as trees at Veterans Park and the elementary school playground. County Commissioner Robert Goff had helped clear out the circular flower garden in front of the old courthouse, she said, and another tree would be planted in honor of Trenton’s recently deceased former mayor, Paul Rollings, before the end of the year.
Marshana Sharp, manager of the Dade Public Library, said over 200 children had participated at the joint library/Chamber of Commerce Christmas event this Saturday. She said the library had been generated like a gingerbread house but that a subsequent storm had blown the decorations all over town. Anyone finding what looks like giant pieces of candy may call her and she will pick them up, she said.
The Chamber’s Debbie Tinker said this year’s Christmas parade, also held Saturday, had been Dade’s best so far and had drawn record crowds. She reminded all of the Chamber’s yearly elections, which will be held at the C of C’s monthly luncheon at noon this Friday in Randy’s Restaurant.
Ginnie Sams made a presentation for the Trenton Arts Council, which she said was currently at work on its ArtScape project, placing sculpture installations along highways 11 and 136. “This creates points of interest along the tourist paths,” she said.
Mayor Anthony thanked TAC for its efforts. “I can assure you that the impact of art on city and county has been dramatic and positive,” he said.
The business portion of the city meeting was much longer this month than usual, but the mayor did not begin the preceding work session, which usually starts at 6 p.m., until 6:30, and the commission voted to continue this later beginning time.
The Trenton City Commission’s next regularly scheduled meeting is slated for Jan. 14, with the business meeting at 7 p.m. – and, again, the work session beginning at 6:30 p.m.