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City talks rate increases in 2021-2022 budget

The LaGrange City Council held its first reading and public hearing on the 2021-2022 city budget Tuesday night.

City Manager Meg Kelsey previously commented that the budget, just over $1.9 million, was balanced overall and that the city is still in a “strong financial position” despite some of the hits several departments took during the COVID pandemic.

“We did lose some cash this year due to COVID,” Kelsey pointed out during the council’s work session Tuesday.

The city’s cash balance, which amounts to $45,772,725, is down from last year due to the pandemic impact on utilities, Kelsey said. The funds most affected by this decrease are the water and sewer fund and gas fund.

There is a small surplus in the budget council previously balanced for 2022, and park services have been added into the budget.

One item discussed will be slight tax rate increases for gas and trash pickup rates that will impact both residential and commercial customers.

The gas rate will increase by $2.57 for residential customers and $14.83 a month for commercial customers. Kelsey noted that the last gas increase was in 2018.

The trash pickup rate will increase by $3 for residential customers and $6 for commercial customers which will take affect once the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

Another major hit to the budget included the prioritization of the city’s probation services, which eliminated four positions.

Probation fees brought in $142,098 in revenues in 2019 but only $$98,468 in revenues in 2020.

The decline in fees include a decrease in caseloads from 350 cases per officer to only 40. Secondly, the State of Georgia capped fees to 3 months.

The number of tickets written are down and the number of cases are being handled through pretrial diversion.

Kelsey commented that the four positions have since been redirected to other positions: two employees have already been offered new jobs, one is starting a new position this week and the other has chosen to take a position outside the city.

Councilmember Willie Edmondson brought up that the city has had no city tax for the past 20 years and remains one of the few cities in Georgia that does not.

In other business, the council had its first public hearing and vote on the amended Unified Development Ordinance, which includes a new zoning map, re-adoption of the current Garden District text and map and the rezoning the over 13,000 parcels of land within the city.

Part of the UDO involves adding an increase to the city’s building permit fees.

The council also discussed a request of making Douglas Street and Peachtree Street a one-way.

Natalie Hale, the executive director of the Friends of the Thread commented that some of the residents in the area wanted the streets to be one ways in order to remedy speeding issues on Douglas Street. There should be no issues with making Douglas Street  a one-way, Hale said, but changes on Peachtree Street are still being considered.