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Council presented with annual fiscal report
Hearings on alcohol violations also held
Will Britt Statesboro Mayor Pro Temp
Mayor Pro Tem Will Britt

    A comprehensive annual financial report was presented to members of Statesboro City Council Tuesday, in a work session prior to its regular meeting in City Hall at 6 p.m. 
    The report, documenting all fiscal activity from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010, revealed dramatic increases in expenses, resulting in some deficits and a continued plunge in the city’s general reserve fund.
    Ideally, the general fund would be around $3 million, said city accountant Richard Deal, who presented the report to council. As of June 30, 2010, “you have only got $99,000 left in the fund balance,” he said.
    “Looking back, over the past few years, there has been a decrease in the balance every year since 2005,” said Deal to council.
    Though some departmental revenues did rise, no increased funds could offset the results of a poor economy, added insurance costs and the funding of a more than $6 million police station in the previous fiscal year, according to members of council.
    “We are having some serious issues,” said Councilman Travis Chance regarding the increased expenses. “The issue we have to deal with is steadily declining revenue and rising costs.”
    Chance cited a stumbling economy and the city’s decision to pay for a new police station as factors in the fund’s decline.
    “The station”, said Councilman Will Britt, “was the largest increase in [city] expenses.
We used about $4.5 million of our general fund to build it.”
    “A lot of revenues were up; which is good,” he said.  “But our number-one concern is our insurance fund. We are currently spending more than projected on insurance.”
    “We are going to have to find a way to cut expenses or increase revenue,” said Britt. “That is what we are doing now. The council is committed to addressing it.”
    Councilman John Riggs echoed the sentiment of his cohorts.
    “We have a lot more work to do,” he said. “We paid the police department cash and then the economy took a big bite. Revenues have been steadily going down. We’re hoping to see it do better this year. We think we have some things in place that will allow us to overcome any deficits.”
    Council expects recently completed revenue-generating projects to increase city funds by the time the 2010/2011 report is released.
    Neither Councilman Gary Lewis nor Tommy Blitch was present for the work session – All councilmen, though, attended the regular meeting that followed.
    During its meeting, council faced six local businesses who were summoned for due process hearings after being discovered selling alcohol to underage persons.
    The establishments – Kevin’s Food Mart, Sunny Food Mart, Buffalo’s Southwest Café, Christopher’s Restaurant, Holiday Pizza and Rusty’s Tavern – were cited for the ordinance violation when cashiers sold alcohol to a minor involved with a sting operation conducted by the Georgia Department of Revenue.
    With the exception of Rusty’s Tavern, each institution appeared before council as a first-time violator and, as a result, faced a potential three-day suspension of its alcohol license.
    Council, however, remained steadfast in an adopted policy to issue warnings to establishments with no history of offenses.
    “We have given everyone in the past two years a warning for a first offense,” said Chance. “If the businesses admit they were wrong, and understand that this is their one get-out-of-jail-free card, I would like to issue warnings with the understanding that their next punishment will be much more severe.”
    Council voted unanimously to issue warnings to the first-timers.
    Despite its owner’s vow to begin a program to better educate and monitor its employees, Rusty’s Tavern, which appeared before council a second time, was issued a 10-day suspension of its alcohol license.
    In its meeting, council tabled a decision to increase the amount of a technology fee levied against individuals cited for traffic or vehicle violations in the city from $10 to $20.
    The motion, according to Wendell Turner, Statesboro Public Safety Director, would provide funds to service needs within the Police Department and ultimately save taxpayers money.
    “[The ordinance] is something we absolutely need in order to continue improvements in technology within the department,” he said. “We are going to add programs to offer to the public. People can see and review any crime that is occurring, or any incident reports that have been filed in the city of Statesboro, by getting online. They can also get online and offer tips for any ongoing cases.”
    Turner said the money will be used to transition the city’s fleet of patrol cars from outdated laptops to new computers over time, and cut “technical support” costs from the department’s annual budget.
    Council will examine the fee increase in its next scheduled meeting.
    Jeff Harrison can be reached at 912-489-9454

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