City, county approve 2009 budgets
Higher sales tax revenues predicted

COVINGTON - The City Council and the Newton County Board of Commissioners approved budgets for fiscal year 2009 this week. Both governments kept their current millage rates in place.

The city has projected $133.3 million in revenues and $132.8 million in expenditures, leaving a surplus of $590,802. The millage rate was maintained at 8.208.

State law requires local taxing authorities to roll back the millage rate to produce the same total revenue on the new year's digest that last year's rate would have produced without reassessments.

A rate that is higher than the rollback rate is considered a tax increase, and requires public notification and hearings. The city will bring in additional revenue while maintaining the millage rate due to the increase in the tax digest, according to City Clerk John Grotheer.

The city is expected to see an increase in sales tax revenues, from $2.1 million to $2.5 million, Grotheer said.

"We are projecting sales taxes will be higher because of Home Depot and the Super Wal-Mart," he said.

The city budgeted $30.4 million for wholesale electricity purchases from the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and $18.8 million for gas purchases from Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia, and is planning about $5 million in gas and electric projects, Grotheer said.

There are no rate changes budgeted for any departments at this time, he said.

The city has also budgeted $1.1 million for completion of an automated meter reading system, a project that has been four years in the making. The system will allow gas, water and electric meters to be read by employees from their vehicles, rather than having to check and manually read each meter.

"It makes us more efficient and accurate and reduces vehicle operating costs and manpower. As Covington grows, we will not be adding new positions to read meters. It's also more accurate, because it reduces the likelihood of human error," Grotheer said.

All meters will be converted by the end of the year, he said.

The city also budgeted $145,000 for the creation of an interactive Web site that will allow customers to pay bills online, among other features.

The city previously operated on a calendar year budget but has switched to a fiscal year running from July 1 to June 30 in order to be on the same planning schedule as the county, the Newton County School System and the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority.

The city approved a six-month budget for January through June in order to transition into the new budget cycle, which means they will face two audits this year.

In other news, Newton County approved a $55.1 million balanced budget Tuesday night.

The budget represents a $1.83 million increase over last year's budget, and a 3.4 percent increase in operating costs, which can mostly be attributed to rising fuel costs and employee pay increases, said Executive Officer John Middleton.

The county's maintenance and operations millage rate remained at 9.73.

The hospital indigent fund millage rate was set at 1.2 mils; EMS services at .451 and state of Georgia at .25, bringing the total millage to 11.631 mils.

The fire district millage rate for the unincorporated county, Mansfield, Newborn and Porterdale is .792.

The majority of revenues - 51 percent - will come from property taxes, with 16 percent from local option sales taxes. Remaining sources of revenue are fees for services, accounting for 5 percent; licenses and permits at 4 percent; insurance premium and business taxes for 4 percent; and other sources accounting for 15 percent.

In the expenditures category, personnel costs account for 55 percent of the county's spending, followed by purchased and contracted services at 14 percent. Appropriations to recreation, mental and physical health, E-911, senior services, solid waste, the library, and other funds accounted for 14 percent as well.

Capital expenses account for seven percent of expenditures and supplies for 10 percent.

Public safety accounts for 45 percent of all expenses, with the majority of that going to law enforcement, the jail and fire service.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.

SideBar: At a glance

How much does it cost to run Newton County?

· The total budget for fiscal year 2009 is $55.1 million

· Cost of operating the county per day: $150,977

· Cost of operating the county per hour: $6,291