There are roughly 35 separate Rome City departments and 27 pay days in 2020. That comes to about 945 payrolls next year.

That’s one additional payroll for all city employees over 2019 simply because of the way the 2020 calendar falls.

Add to that performance-based merit increases of between 0% and 4% for all employees and a .25 increase to their 401 retirement match and you’ve got an additional strain on the City of Rome’s General Fund that makes balancing next year’s budget a challenge.

The good news is, there will be no tax increases other than the 2.5% hike in water and sewer rates next year and the General Fund is balanced — at least in the city’s Draft 2020 Budget being sent to the Rome City Commission for a first reading and public hearing Dec. 9.

“I’d characterize the budget as very conservative without projecting a need for a tax rate increase,” Rome City Manager Sammy Rich said Wednesday after the Finance Committee zoomed through the 42-page draft document within about an hour the day before the Thanksgiving holiday. “We have tried to minimize expenses while also planning for 0% to 4% merit increases for employees so that we can retain our best and brightest employees.”

Rich went on to explain that the city is budgeting for a modest amount of growth in the tax digest.

“Our local option sales tax continues to grow, which is a definite positive economic indicator,” he said.

Although the budget draft was being reviewed by the Finance Committee only one week later than it traditionally is at the end of the calendar year, City Commissioner and Finance Committee member Wendy Davis expressed her discomfort with skimming over the draft so quickly and sending it to the commission without a more detailed analysis by the committee.

“I was always under the impression this committee looks at the budget with a fine-toothed comb and today doesn’t feel like a fine-toothed comb,” Davis said. “Please understand I’m not trying to be critical of any work that has gone into this. I’m just not comfortable with the fact that I haven’t had time to process it because it was only given to me an hour ago.”

Commissioners Randy Quick and Evie McNiece explained that this is the way it’s always been done and that there will be time to review it more closely and ask questions of the new city finance director, Toni Rhinehart, or department heads before the budget is up for final reading Dec. 16.

The 2020 Draft Budget is now posted online at Residents can find it and other financial documents posted there by scrolling down the page.

Rich said he wished they could have reviewed it earlier, but various events caused a delay in getting it to the committee this year.

Rhinehart, who had worked under longtime former Finance Director Sheree Shore before Shore retired this fall, was able to go through each page and highlight main points of interest for the committee.

“I’ll just say this, Sheree made this look easy,” Rhinehart began. “Sheree did it for years and years. We’ve had our challenges this year, as well. Not just staffing challenges, but a few other things we’ve had to address for 2020.”

Rhinehart said that although payroll expenses will be up across the board, a one-time appropriation of the Fund Balance of $250,000 to cover some of those expenses and an expected increase in property tax assessments of more than 8.4% — as well as a continual rise in collections from the Local Option Sales Tax — are helping balance out the General Fund.

“The increase in the Local Option Sales Taxes from the hotels and motels is a good bright spot,” she said, adding the departments that do their own budgets did a nice job of keeping expenses down and revenues up.

Rich said he’s had a few different hotel developers indicate they are actively looking for places to build new products.

“That’s good for business,” Rich added.

Rhinehart said one of the most difficult funds to balance for next year is the Transit Fund since Rome Transit is currently in so much flux with the loss of the tripper service for the schools and the anticipated expansion of paratransit and Main Line services.

However, Assistant City Manager Patrick Eidson wanted to assure those employed by Rome Transit that there aren’t any plans for layoffs — at least not for now.

“My goal is to not have to do that,” Eidson said, adding they are down about eight drivers currently as they did not fill positions after some people left. “Once we have this Transit Development Plan complete, we’ll have a better idea of what transit service is going to look like before we make any tough decisions.”

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