GREENCASTLE -- Shortfalls in tax draws from the state are not spelling doom for the city of Greencastle, but an uncertain future is calling for continued creativity from city officials.
While city officials knew fairly early in 2009 the tax draws were going to be both late and low, they didn't know the exact amount. With the final draw now in, there is a shortfall of $165,501.77 from the original approved budget.
Mayor Sue Murray credited the hard work and creativity of city employees for not allowing the budget issues to spell disaster for the city.
"I'm finding us very lucky in that people within our departments have found ways to be even more cost-conscious than in the past," Murray said. "They're willing to work even harder and smarter to get things done. So we have been very fortunate, and even with that shortfall of $165,000, we are ending the year in the black."
Because the funds -- particularly the general fund -- were expected to take a hit, the city took some serious measures to cut costs.
"We realized this was obviously going to be a year in which there were going to be no salary increases, there weren't going to be capital purchases," Murray said. "The things that got hit the most along the way were motor vehicle and highway, local road and street and capital development, as well as the general fund. That's why there were things we weren't able to do that we had hoped to do, like more roads and sidewalks weren't done and police cars couldn't be purchased."
One major example of this has been the city doing more repairs, rather than replacements, of vehicles such as police cars. While this helps in the short term, repair bills begin to pile up, and the same cars can only go so long.
"Just like at home, we can cut and we can be frugal and live within our means," Murray said. "But when that budget continues to decrease and be variable, there's only so many things that we can do to still be able to accommodate the services and be able to accomplish and provide the services that people expect."
The longer-term issue lies in the state's inability to properly project the upcoming budgets for local governments and school systems.
"I think what it does say to us is that we have no idea what is going to happen in 2010. That truly is the challenge when it comes to planning," Murray said. "I don't know when we'll get a certified budget for 2010. There doesn't seem to be a really good way of forecasting, and I think that's been a lot of the discussion at the state level. Most certainly, that's something that's affecting all of us now."
Complicating the issue further is the constant uncertainty of fuel prices, which could derail even the best cost saving efforts.
"The guess is that we're going to be seeing gas prices up to $3 a gallon again soon and they could be back up to $4," Murray said. "We've got those kinds of variables that make it very difficult to know what we're going to have to move from one place to another just to cover energy costs."
To alleviate the problems, the city will continue to search for stimulus dollars, an effort which hasn't been very successful so far. Officials will also rely on the city's two TIF districts and money from the Economic Development Income Tax (EDIT) fund to get some projects done.
"We still have EDIT dollars that can pay for things like the construction on the Albin Pond Trail, so that we can get that built this year," Murray said. "We're fortunate that we're going to see some things that are still moving forward."
With the uncertain future, though, Murray mostly remained thankful for the city's employees and their commitment.
"There are people who are very dedicated to this community. I'm not sure that citizens understand how much and how hard they work," Murray said. "The public works commissioner was out starting at 2 a.m. this morning and had his crews in at 4 a.m.
"Those people do that whenever something comes up," she said. Police and fire respond, and if there's a water leak, guess who's out doing it, no matter when it is. They're a wonderful group of employees the city has. We are really fortunate."