The City of Cullman has passed its largest general fund budget in several years for 2015, which includes a pay raise for employees and increased capital outlay projects.

The fiscal year 2015 budget is set at $28.49 million, up considerably from $26.8 million the previous year, marking a 6 percent increase in spending. The new budget includes a pay increase of at least 2 percent across the board for each employee.

The 2015 budget also earmarks funds for several different special projects in the works, including downtown facade and streetscape, the Brownsfield rehabilitation of the Grief property, wastewater treatment plant upgrades, water tank rehabilitation, the installation of an information technology server, plans for a Smithsonian exhibit coming to the Cullman County museum in 2015, and infrastructure incentives related to retail projects such as the upcoming Wal-Mart super center on Alabama Highway 157.

The budget also includes funding for some bridge replacement projects, primarily the Eva Road Bridge and Larkwood Bridge. Both bridges are in dire shape, and rated extremely low in infrastructure safety scales.

“Those desperately need to be replaced,” Cullman Mayor Max Townson said.

An ambitious sewer line replacement along the Eight Mile Creek sewer line is also included. The line was damaged and unearthed by the 2011 tornadoes that hit the area, and the city has secured a $5.7 million state grant to help fund the brunt of the work.

“If not for the grant, that project would’ve been devastating to the city,” Townson noted.

Several city departments will also receive new capital equipment in the 2015 fiscal year. The street department is set for a line striper with trailer and road building equipment for repaving; the police department will receive six new vehicles and some other equipment; the fire department will receive one rescue unit, one rescue tool and other equipment; the sanitation department will receive one roll-off truck, one garbage truck and other equipment; and the water department will receive one backhoe, one dump truck and some miscellaneous equipment.

Water and sewer rates were also increased as part of the budget, though they were the only city fees that changed.

The minimum bill for the first 3,000 gallons of retail rate water will jump $5.75 per month (23 percent) beginning in January 2015, then continue to climb by $1 (3 percent) for the next two years, landing at a total $7.75 (29 percent) increase in 2017.

Sewer rates will also increase by a total of 7 percent over the next three years. The minimum rate will increase by $1 (3 percent) per month in January 2015, followed by .75 cent (2 percent) increases in 2016 and 2017, for a total increase of $2.50 (7 percent).

Neither the water, nor sewer rates were increased last year — and the two mark the only rate increases for city services approved this year. Other fees such as building license and sanitation will remain unchanged.

The council spent the past several months developing the budget, working with department heads to prioritize spending and decide exactly what should be addressed in 2015.

“I want to thank everyone who worked on the budget, from the department heads and the city council, for their due diligence,” Townson said. “This is probably one of the highest budgets we’ve had in our administration.”

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