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City general budget could increase 4.3 percent

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The city’s general fund budget plan for fiscal 2015 calls for $127.39 million in expenditures, a 4.3 percent increase over this year, but requires no property tax increase for the 16th straight year.

The certified tax rate after reappraisal is set to be $1.2015 per $100 of property value, down from $1.2703, following a countywide reappraisal that is required to be revenue-neutral.

The spending plan pays for a 3.5 percent step increase for all full-time employees and calls for hiring at least 10 new full-time positions, in addition to several part-time employees.

At the same time, it proposes saving $800,000 in health insurance costs by going to a new provider, but employees are expected to see their premiums go up in the city’s PPO.

A three-year contract with Healthscope is set to expire Dec. 31, and the city’s Human Resources Department, working with Cowan Benefit Service, took bids and chose Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tennessee to be its third-party administrator.

City Council members recently heard a presentation on the proposal but took no action, choosing to ask the administration to look at different scenarios.

The HR Department is encouraging employees to pass the city’s wellness incentive and switch to a health savings accounts from the PPO in an effort to save money.

“I hope we will continue to look at proposed health insurance changes,” City Councilman Toby Gilley said, adding he doesn’t want pay increases to be negated by higher insurance premiums.

Gilley said the proposed $800,000 savings, in a sense, shifts costs to the employees, “and I’m not sure that’s how we want to manage that.” Employees are concerned that one catastrophic illness would wipe out a health savings account, he noted.

Councilman Ron Washington, however, said employees want to be able to keep premiums down and pay little to nothing to go to the doctor. “Well, those days are about gone,” he said.

As city officials prepare to work on the budget this week, they’ll see that city revenue was $558,776 less than budgeted for the current year, but the city general fund spent $7.84 million less than budgeted. The general fund balance decreased $135,000 and ended year with $52.6 million in reserve, 47 percent of one year’s revenues to meet obligations.

This year’s budget, which is to be approved by June 30, recommends using $4.8 million from the fund balance.

Three new officers are to be hired for Directed Patrol Unit to fight neighborhood crime. Capital improvement plan includes funds for new police vehicles and computers, and renovation of HQ building. Work continues on next phase of communications system, with new portable radios being bought in 2013 and preparation for bids on four new communications towers.

New positions also include a head tennis professional, operations coordinator and two assistant operations coordinators to run an indoor tennis complex that is being built in conjunction with MTSU.

City Manager Rob Lyons also is recommending a Finance Department accountant and information systems analyst in the Information and Technology Department.

A facilities supervisor to oversee maintenance of building and plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems. Several part-time positions are recommended as well.

Capital expenditures:
• Information Technology: $135,640 to replace more than 100 aging computers.

• Police Department: $38,400 for four night rifle scopes with night vision.

• Fire & Rescue Department: $28,000 for 17 vehicle modems.

• Parks and Recreation Department: $2.05 million to acquire land and construct phase IV of Stones River Greenway from Barfield Crescent Park to state Route 99 (New Salem Highway). (80 percent from state grant and 20 percent from borrowed funds)

• Parks and Recreation: $1.87 million for indoor tennis facility, matched with donations and pledges from MTSU and the Christy-Houston Foundation. The city borrowed $2.7 million to fund its portion of the facility.

• The police department bought the vacant Murfreesboro Medical Clinic building on Highland Avenue for $4 million and plans are to remodel it over the next two years to house all police operations in one location, leaving several city buildings open for other departments. Remodeling is budgeted at $22.4 million.

• $11.6 million is budgeted for police communications, towers and various other information technology software and equipment replacements.

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