NEWBERRY – With the City of Newberry’s fiscal year drawing to a close, the commission’s magic number is 5 percent.

The budget workshop Aug. 19 solidified the decision to cut operations spending by 5 percent across the board in the general fund, said Keith Ashby, city manager.

The city has to decide whether to lower the administrative service charge the general fund levies on enterprise funds to 5 percent. Administrative charges are allocated when the city provides personnel or services like accounting and payroll.

This administrative service charge will bring in about $270,000 to the general fund, which is about 5 percent of the entire budget.

Most cities in the area charge 8 to 11 percent, but Newberry is a much smaller town, making things more difficult.

“You can’t cut positions in a department as easily as a big city can,” Ashby said. “That is why we are cutting the 5 percent with scalpel and not with a meat axe.”

“There’s a tendency with the budget to say, ‘Get it down!’” he said. “But we say we will get it down, but we will cut finely.”

Commissioner Tim Marden agrees with the subtle approach to getting the city’s budget back in balance and thinks “citizens can be incredibly optimistic moving forward over the next couple of years.”

Marden noticed a 15 percent difference in spending versus revenue and believes that if Newberry can keep its spending down by 5 percent for the next three years, the budget can be balanced.

One issue that springs up when balancing the budget is the fact that only about half of Newberry’s population contributes to the utility fund, which is used as a reserve, yet taxes have been lowered in the recent past.

The commission is firm about keeping taxes constant and spending curbed for the near future, so it is exploring other options such as enacting franchise fees on the other utility companies within the city limits, Clay Electric and Central Florida Electric.  

While these franchise fees may raise rates for residents that receive utilities from Clay and Central Florida Electric, the entire population would be contributing to the utility reserve fund.   Those who receive city utilities already pay a higher rate than those that aren’t on city utilities.

At this stage, Ashby will be meeting with attorneys to discuss the possibilities and costs from a legal standpoint.

“There’s a good dialogue going right now,” Ashby said.

“Sometimes our commissioners are split philosophically.”

“We have a group who are very cautious with spending and those who will take a bigger risk for growth,” he said.

The latest venture, the Martin Luther King Community Center, is in full swing and the Parks and Recreation department will be presenting program implementation. The city will continue its avid search for grants, having pulled in over $11 million in the last couple of years.

“Newberry has been in great shape consistently,” Ashby said. “From a staff standpoint, we just have to define the clarity.”

The commissioners said it’s all about staying true to Newberry’s vision.

“Our city made a commitment six or seven years ago,” Commissioner Joe Hoffman said, “to making parks and recreation the economic driver. It’s worth it, but it takes time and commitment. We will put that to the citizens and see what’s what at the next meeting.”

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