The Covington City Council unanimously approved a $23.4 million 2015 budget Tuesday night, capping a month of budget hearings and workshops that resulted in some tweaks but no major changes to the budget originally proposed by Mayor Mike Cooper in September.
The two biggest changes from what Cooper originally submitted were a reduction in projected sales tax revenue and an increase in the amount budgeted for recreation.
In the case of the city’s two 1-cent sales taxes, city officials reduced their original revenue projections based on data collected after the budget was submitted. Cooper first projected $4.264 million in revenue from each tax in 2015, but that has been revised down to $4.194 million.
In light of actual tax receipts after the original budget was prepared, officials felt it would be prudent to adopt more conservative revenue estimates, Cooper said Thursday. Nevertheless, the city expects to get nearly 4 percent more in sales taxes in 2015 than it did in 2014, he said.
The second adjustment relates to the recreation program, the only municipal recreation program in St. Tammany Parish.
Earlier this year, voters rejected a plan to create a new recreation district that would have included Covington and some outlying areas. Cooper and other city leaders had supported creation of the district as a way to relieve stress on the city’s finances and to help compete with other successful recreation districts such as those at Coquille and Pelican parks.
A portion of the city’s 1-cent 1982 sales tax is dedicated to recreation, resulting in about $600,000 per year in dedicated recreation funding.
After voters rejected the new district, Cooper began discussions with St. Tammany Recreation District 14 about negotiating an agreement under which that agency would run Covington’s recreation programming. Such an agreement could be in place by early next year, he said.
The budget passed Tuesday includes approximately $200,000 earmarked for improvements to the city’s recreation fields — work that needs to be done regardless of who is running the programming, Cooper said.
The budget also includes a 2 percent cost-of-living pay increase for all employees, plus designated pots of money for department heads to use for merit employees for certain employees.
Due mainly to the reduction in expected revenue, the city will be forced to dip into its unassigned general fund for $176,089 to help cover expenses next year, far less than the $440,795 the city expects to take from the fund this year.
Cooper stressed, however, that the unassigned general fund still has a balance of some $3.8 million. The city maintains a separate emergency fund, called the assigned general fund, which has a balance of nearly $2 million, he said.
In a separate ordinance, the council unanimously voted to increase Cooper’s salary by 2 percent, to $80,580, in 2015.
When debate on the 2015 budget concluded, councilmen Rick Smith and Mark Wright both praised Cooper and his administration for making the process easier each year.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.