Money

The city of LaFayette’s latest audit shows a bright picture. Income is up and expenses are down, says Lloyd Williamson, the city’s accountant.

Williamson, who presented the audit at the council’s April 11 meeting, credited the good news to city manager David Hamilton and a team effort from city department leaders.

Hamilton became city manger in June 2014.

“I appreciate what David (Hamilton) has done,” council member Wayne Swanson said. “I have been on council for awhile and I have never seen expenses go down this much across the board since I have been on council.”

At the beginning of fiscal 2013, the city’s general fund balance was $447,660 in the red. By the end of fiscal 2015, it was $928,752 in the black.

The city’s fiscal, or budget, year runs from October through September.

Mayor Andy Arnold said the city’s departments have taken on more responsibilities, such as conducting projects in-house instead of bidding them out. For example, in-house repairing of water lines along Chattanooga Street is expected to save taxpayers about $1 million.

“I think that is where a lot of that expense-saving comes in,” the mayor said. “It is … literally a team effort.”

For fiscal 2015, $2,540,262 was transferred to the general fund from the sale of utilities, which includes $1.4 million from electric, $409,106 from water-sewage, and $458,396 from gas, Williamson said. City officials refer to revenue from its utilities business as “enterprise” funds.

The remainder — $272,760 — was transferred from miscellaneous sources such as the hotel-motel taxes, capital projects (SPLOST), and fees associated with billing.

“So we actually increased revenue and decreased expense?” council member Ben Bradford asked.

“Correct,” Williamson said. “So, now your business, enterprise funds for businesses, you are making a profit. You are transferring that profit over to the general fund to keep the property taxes low.”

Williamson said the city has not had a significant jump in spending in the last decade. In 2007, the city spent $4,890,000; in 2015 it spent $5,385,000.

Airport, golf course losing more than half-million dollars total annually

Williamson said the city’s airport, Barwick-LaFayette, lost $276,000 in fiscal 2015.

The city’s golf course, which has recently come under more fire for increasingly losing money, continues to drain the city’s coffers. In fiscal 2015, the golf course lost $274,000, Williamson said.

The course has lost money for years, more than $2.5 million in the past 18 years. Criticism has increased recently because the yearly deficit is growing, with more than $1 million lost in the past five years.

But some city officials don’t place the golf course in the same category as its utility enterprises. They maintain the golf course is essentially like the city’s recreation ventures — Little League sports, the swimming pool, and so on — which aren’t expected to run in the black. City- and county-run recreation ventures invariably run in the red.

Opponents argue that these officials are merely playing semantics. The golf course, they argue, shouldn’t be compared to other city-offered recreation activities. They say it’s simply a play-toy for the elite, too expensive for most taxpayers and therefore of little value, recreationally speaking and across the board.

Council member Beacher Garmany asked for more clarification on the loses at the golf course between 2014 and 2015.

Williamson said, “The profit in the golf fund from 2014, the loss was $237,000. And 2015, the loss was $279,000. Of that loss, $130,000 of both years practically was depreciation, which is an expense, but not a use of cash. So it wasn’t that bad of a cash flow. … It cost you $144,000 in more likely cash outlay.”

Josh O'Bryant is a general assignment reporter and covers the Walker-Catoosa County area. He can be reached at the Walker County Messenger office at 706-638-1859 and by email at jobryant@npco.com.