There's at least one glaring difference in the first draft of the proposed Red Bank city budget and the version commissioners have developed one month later: There is no property tax increase.
But doing away with the proposed 36 cent increase meant heavy cuts to the budget, which takes effect July 1: The commission has cut its codes officer position, tabled plans for a new City Hall and voted to deny city employees a 2 percent raise.
The commission also drew down $100,000 from the city's reserve fund.
The amended budget was the product of a series of laborious - and frequently contentious - budget workshops last month. The final vote will be tonight, after a period for public comment.
What: Public hearing to discuss Red Bank budget and budget vote
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Red Bank City Hall
"It was blood, sweat and tears over this thing," said Vice Mayor Greg Jones. "I feel good about where we're at right now. I feel like we trimmed a lot of excess from the budget and we're at a point now where we can take care of the city without raising the tax."
Avoiding the tax increase City Manager Chris Dorsey recommended was the deciding point for many of the cuts, Mayor Monty Millard said.
"Having so many residents out of work and on fixed incomes, we didn't feel like we could raise taxes this year," said Millard.
Commissioner Floy Pierce agreed.
"Anytime your economy is in a crisis you automatically want to start cutting. You don't put the burden on the taxpayers; you cut out waste in the government."
One possible cut, Pierce said, was the city's codes officer. The position, held by Chuck Martin, is salaried at $44,000 a year.
"We didn't have the position three years ago. Other public works employees could work together to take on the job," she said.
On the vote, all commissioners but Ruth Jeno aligned with Pierce's stance.
"It's just a full-time job," Jeno said. "Every city needs a codes officer, and frankly, we could have two. Our infrastructure's old."
Millard said all city employees could pitch in keeping an eye on neighborhoods. Jeno believes that means enforcement will falter, saying several long-blighted homes were only condemned after the position was created.
"Some people just don't care and keep breaking code," she said. "It's a vicious cycle."
One new budget item that survived the cuts was $25,000 added to the commission's budget for "economic development."
Millard said the money would be used for attracting businesses to the city.
"The long-range plan I have is that if we fill up these empty businesses we'll generate sales tax dollars and not be so dependent on property taxes," Millard said.
But Jeno noted that the money spent on the measure would be wasted unless residential areas are healthy.
"If our city looks bad because of lack of codes enforcement, who's going to want to come here? It all goes hand in hand," she said.
The commission voted to fill the remaining gap with the $100,000 from its reserves, which total $4.8 million.
It's the second year the city has assigned reserve funds to the general fund, but Dorsey said the city didn't end up having to touch the $164,000 it drew down last year.
"Its not a good practice to always dip into your fund balance," Dorsey acknowledged. "We're hoping that revenues and surpluses during the year will negate the need to use that amount."
Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6673.