HAWTHORNE – Hawthorne city commissioners unanimously approved the city’s final budget of $2,425,416 for the 2011/12 fiscal year during a meeting on Sept. 20.

The city’s general fund is budgeted at $767,281; the water fund at $220,800; wastewater at $1,217,335; and the sanitation fund at $220,000.

The new budget represents an overall increase of about 18 percent when compared to the 2010/11budget of $1,987,983. Although the budget was initially believed to be balanced last year, there was a deficit of nearly $400,000 that placed the city in a state of financial emergency.

Commissioners also unanimously adopted the final 2011/12 millage rate, or the rate at which property taxes are levied on property, at 5.3194 mills.  City Manager Ellen Vause estimates that the adopted millage rate, which is the same as last year, will result in $244,386 in ad valorem tax revenues to the city.

A surcharge was added to the water and sewer bills beginning in May to help reduce the budget deficit. During the meeting, City Attorney Audrie Harris described the deficit as a “work in progress.”

“Our water and sewer rates should stabilize our historical deficits that we have had every year so that we could be able to start a rebuilding process,” she said. “It will be a long journey for us because there are a lot of things we have to straighten out before we start rebuilding.”

In a letter to the State of Florida Auditor General that detailed the current economic standings of Hawthorne, the City said 2012 is expected to be the break-even year for the budget.

However, there is still a $1.12 million deficit between the enterprise and general funds. Commissioner William Carlton said he believes more action will need to be taken to reduce the deficit.

“We are shortchanging ourselves by not trying to get enough taxes in to start reducing this deficit we have,” he said during the meeting.

Hawthorne will continue to be considered in a state of financial emergency until the deficit is corrected.

City commission members met on Aug. 2 to announce the millage rate proposals. On Sept. 8, they adopted the preliminary millage rate of 5.3194 mills.

In anticipation of its annual audit, Vause said the city has completed five of eight balance sheets to close the 2010/11 fiscal year.

“We are really doing a whole year’s worth of bookkeeping in two months,” she said.

City Commissioner William Carlton said he hopes the new budget can aid the current deficit.

“We still got a $1.12 million deficit between our accounts here. Somehow, we have to get money from somewhere to pay for this.”