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Bill Thompson has never been one to mince words on Rockwood’s financial affairs — and a gathering of city officials last week was no exception.
“Yay!” he proclaimed enthusiastically during the first meeting of the city’s new finance committee. “This looks a whole lot better than it’s looked before.”
The number that had the Rockwood City Council member cheering was $185,711.83 — the Aug. 31 ending balance in the city’s general fund.
Both Mayor James Watts and City Recorder Becky Ruppe conceded that the money in the account now is considerably less from doing day-to-day city business. Still, it was hard for Watts to contain his own excitement.
“I don’t know that we’ve had an ending balance that big since I’ve been here,” he said.
The three, along with Rockwood City Council members Jason Jolly and Pete Wright, are members of the newly formed finance committee tasked to keep monthly tabs on the monies going in and out of city coffers.
Jolly, who was elected committee chairman, will report to the council each month on the city’s financial status.
Ruppe came armed with facts and figures from both July and August. The information she provided included checks written and statements of expenditures and encumbrances for all city funds. Page by page, she went over the numbers with other committee members and offered explanations.
“For a period of time, I’d like to provide you everything,” she said. “Our windows are open; we’re not hiding anything.”
Reports assessed for both July and August showed few surprises. The majority of funds for all departments are absorbed by payroll and health insurance. Utilities, however, factor in as a large expense for some departments.
At city hall, for example, the city paid $3,676.25 for utilities in August. Ruppe said she plans to pursue a grant to help make the building more energy efficient in hopes of saving money in that area.
Other departments, however, had whopping utility charges. The golf course’s utility bill in August was $9,545.14, largely due to watering greens.
A leak in the city’s public swimming pool hiked up utilities in the recreation budget to $18,569.50.
“We’re not going to fill it back next year if we don’t get it fixed,” Ruppe vowed.
Studying the figures prompted a question from Thompson.
“Why should we be charged a sewer rate on that?” he asked. “Because you don’t use the sewer. I don’t think it’s fair to do that.”
The committee also learned that a fire truck damaged years ago is in Nashville for repair, and that bill will likely run in the neighborhood of $11,000.
Because the money to cover it isn’t included in the fire department’s budget, Ruppe advised the committee it will need to take a budget amendment before council to shift around monies to pay for it.
“That’s the good thing about looking at these every month,” she said. “If there’s anything that catches your eye, you can go back and fix it.”
One bit of bad news Ruppe shared with the group was an error by the state that had Rockwood receiving around $10,000 a month in sales tax revenue from Save-A-Lot for the past several years.
The state has forgiven all but about $40,000 of that amount, which the city will have to reimburse.
New businesses, such as the recently opened Little Caesar’s Pizza and a McDonald’s due to open in October, had committee members feeling positive they could make up that lost revenue.
“We’re not in bad shape,” Watts said. “If you look at what the city of Rockwood has done in the last two years, no one can touch us as far as new business.”
Knowing the financial status of the city line by line seemed to give all committee members a similar positive attitude toward what has sometimes been a gloomy forecast for Rockwood.
“We’ll know where we stand financially,” Wright said, “and we know where we can move in an area.”
“It’s going to be rosy,” declared Thompson.
To which Watts added, “And I’m here praying that I hope you’re right.”