Originally created 05/20/05

Budget crafters take long view



AIKEN - Instead of spending money to hire more staff to keep up with Aiken's surging population, city leaders have crafted a budget that sinks $100,000 into projects that include an architectural engineering consultant, a spay and neuter program, and a lobbyist in Washington.

The trade-off, they contend, is that the new services will save the city money or generate cash down the road.

A new building inspector and three new public safety firefighters will be hired in the new fiscal year, but that number is about eight fewer than the city ideally needs to keep up with its 4 percent growth rate, City Manager Roger LeDuc said.

He said $100,000 could add two or three employees to understaffed departments, which include public works; parks, recreation and tourism; and public safety.

Instead, the city has budgeted $30,000 for spaying and neutering services for an estimated 700 cats and dogs that belong to low-income families in an effort to control the population of stray animals in the city.

Officials hope the investment will offset the price to board and euthanize animals, which cost the city $55,000 this year.

"We know it's not going to be solved overnight," Mr. LeDuc said, "but we feel we could significantly reduce our costs while taking care of the problems related to our community."

City leaders also invested $36,000 to hire a lobbyist who will help the city secure federal money for $25 million in road improvements planned over 10 years.

"It has worked very well for North Augusta," said Mr. LeDuc, noting that a lobbyist obtained federal money to help North Augusta build a stretch of Interstate 520 and a new road leading into one of its riverfront communities.

Aiken leaders also plan to set aside $10,000 for architectural consultants to help business owners meet the city's downtown design guidelines and $30,000 to implement a cleanup program to collect trash along roads and parks; part of that sum will be used to hire an employee to oversee the program.

Although the investments represent a small chunk of the city's $2.2 million budget, at least one resident found some of the expenses troubling.

Winfred Ray, a member of the Aiken County Taxpayers Association, said he doesn't support funding for a lobbyist.

"If (the city employees) can't do it on their own merit, why do we need to pay someone to go up there and talk for them? Why should we have to pay again for other people to do (city employees') jobs?"

Councilwoman Jane Vaughters also has reservations about certain items in the $42.8 million budget. She wants money spent on some of Aiken's more pressing needs, such as sewer and storm water drainage and tax relief for businesses.

The city has budgeted $275,000 for sewer improvements and more than $1 million for storm-water drainage issues.

"There's still a lot of work to be done on Saluda and Sumter (streets) and other parts of downtown Aiken, and we should be spending money on those things first," she said.

Reach Krista Zilizi at (803) 648-1395. ext. 106, or krista.zilizi@augustachronicle.com.

What's Next:

The new city budget goes before the Aiken City Council for a second reading at 7 p.m. Monday.