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Vidalia budget generating surplus

VIDALIA — The City of Vidalia will operate on a $37.4 million budget for fiscal year 2014-2015.

The budget, adopted by the board of aldermen this week for the July 1 start of the fiscal year, anticipates $37,526,000 in revenues and $37,411,958 in expenditures, which will generate an anticipated surplus of $114,042.

“This is a good budget, a tight budget,” Mayor Hyram Copeland said. “We are continually operating in the black, and I am proud of that.”

Copeland said the city’s objective is to take the revenues it gets and upgrade city services.

“When we have the extra funds, we don’t put the money in a certificate of deposit to gain interest in the bank when we can take that money and use it for what it should be used for, to upgrade the quality of life in our community,” he said.

“You have to try to continue to keep the quality of life in your community, keep the streets maintained, keep city equipment updated and a lot of our projects we are working have to continue to be financed.”

When the aldermen adopted the budget for the now current fiscal year, they also adopted a revised budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which ended Monday.

The revised budget reflected $37,043,715 in total expenditures and $33,357,250 in total revenue, reflecting a $3.69 million deficit. The city ended the year with approximately $25.3 million in funds.

Vidalia City Accountant Ashley Anderson said the revised budget reflected additional revenues and additional costs the city hadn’t anticipated at the time of planning for the 2014 budget.

“One of the big increases was that operating costs increased because of the cost of natural gas going up,” Anderson said. “We have to purchase the cost, and that also affects the cost of purchasing electricity.”

Vidalia operates its own utility system, which includes gas, electrical, water and sewage service.

“We have asked our department heads to tighten up more, because the cost of operating has gone up and the cost of hospitalization (for employees) has also gone up,” Copeland said. “We are looking for areas we can hold the ground on.”

Additional revenues for fiscal year 2014 included grants the city received, such as a $30,000 grant to the police department and funds from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers related to the relocation of utility systems, Anderson said.

Copeland said some of the changes in revenue also have to do with when grant funds will be received. For example, $10 million in the current budget reflects the commitment from the State of Louisiana’s capital outlay program for the Vidalia Port project.

Some of those funds had been anticipated in the past, but will be received this year, Copeland said.

“In my 22 years as mayor, we have always had to amend the budget,” he said. “That’s just something you have to do because you can’t anticipate everything.”

Anderson said preparation for the fiscal year 2015 budget began approximately six weeks before it was finished.

Alderman Jon Betts said he didn’t have any comment about the budget and characterized it as “business as usual.”

The budget anticipates $3,175,000 in tax revenue and $16,249,000 in charges for services — among other revenue streams — and plans for the  city to pay $1,005,000 in principal and $787,000 in interest on its debt service.

The budget also projects $6,810,000 to be spent on capital outlay projects, namely the port.

Approximately $3,272,000 was spent in capital outlay during fiscal year 2014.