ROSWELL, Ga. — Roswell’s fiscal year 2021 budget has passed with nearly $8 million slashed from last year’s numbers.
The vote came to a 3-3 deadlock at the virtual June 8 City Council meeting, with Mayor Lori Henry breaking the tie in favor of passing the $144 million budget as presented. Council members Matt Judy, Matthew Tyser and Marie Willsey likewise all voted for the budget as presented, with no additions or deletions.
The city is bracing for the financial fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to several cuts in an already conservative budget plan. It has also set aside a reserve of about $1.6 million for financial uncertainty arising from the current economic downturn.
To help weather the pandemic’s effects, the city has shifted the budget’s focus to maintaining current levels of services and programs. There will be no increases in employee compensation this year and the city is instating a hiring freeze, except for critical positions. The city currently employs 625 full-time positions.
Several proposed additions and deletions did not make it into the budget, with opponents saying that with such economic uncertainty, now is not the time to make more changes.
The mayor and City Council honed in on a handful of proposed changes in particular: a $250,000 increase in funding for road resurfacing, $140,000 to add an economic development position, a $132,000 increase in compensation for police and a $150,000 reduction in the city’s travel budget. One $293,000 deletion also accounted for a reduction in the estimated Historic Gateway Project contract.
Taken together, the changes are nearly net zero, Councilman Mike Palermo said.
Henry said she has been advocating for an economic development position for the past two years and wanted it to be in the budget this year, but the pandemic halted those plans. Currently, the city’s economic development needs are met solely by its partner organization Roswell Inc.
“As soon as funding is restored within the city, I will promote this [economic development] position,” Henry said. “But I cannot and will not add any positions in this city as long as our employees aren’t getting a pay raise and as long as we’re freezing spending.”
The same logic was used to argue against the proposed additional compensation for police, but proponents of the measure — council members Christine Hall, Palermo and Marcelo Zapata — said the funding is critical at this time.
“The addition for compensation for police — now more than ever, it is very clear that we need to make sure we have the absolutely best officers, and we need to have an absolute focus on these retention and recruitment issues that we’ve had for years,” Palermo said. “We have not had a fully staffed police force in many years.”
Several public commenters spoke in favor of the proposed additions and deletions, especially for the increase in road resurfacing and police funding.
“These changes are basically small, per-line items, but are a smart reappropriation of funds,” said resident Kathy Anderson. “While the full impact of the pandemic on the City of Roswell is uncertain, it is time to be even more prudent with the revenue.”
Tyser said he wants to avoid a “find money, spend money” mentality in favor of saving any additional funds, no matter how small, for larger projects and needs during the pandemic.
“We want to make sure that we have enough money to operate the city, not spend every penny we think is coming in,” he said. “[I’m] not against all of these things… I will vote against them tonight because the timing is wrong.”
In similar action at the meeting, the City Council voted unanimously to temporarily freeze certain capital project funds to preserve resources for essential services in the case of a worsening economic situation. The freeze impacts over $5.7 million in funds, including for various renovations, improvements and design plans.
Staff will provide quarterly financial updates for the mayor and City Council to review and potentially unfreeze certain projects.