County passes $48.4M budget

COVINGTON - Following months of debate and long hours spent crunching numbers, commissioners passed a balanced budget for fiscal year 2010 with little fanfare Tuesday night.

The budget is set at $48.4 million, with the maintenance and operations millage rate to remain at 9.73 mills.

Including the hospital indigent fund, emergency medical services and state of Georgia millage, the total millage rate is 11.63, plus an additional .792 mills for the fire district, paid by residents of unincorporated Newton County, Mansfield, Newborn and Porterdale.

Only county staff attended the public hearing on the budget held prior to the board's 7 p.m. meeting, and no one commented.

Commissioners had struggled to balance the budget without raising taxes and laying off a large number of employees.

In the end, creative cost-cutting measures and about $646,000 in unexpected revenues helped keep the millage the same and limit employee cuts to 16.

Initially, officials said between 45 and 62 employees would have to be terminated.

Remaining employees will be required to take 16 unpaid holidays this year, including two half days off. Those who might have to work on a designated holiday will be paid their regular hourly rate - no overtime. A bonus that was previously awarded for perfect attendance has also been eliminated.

In addition, all departments have seen budget cuts with the exception of the Sheriff's Office, which will be funded at the same level as last year. That department will be spared any staffing cuts.

If revenues exceed expectations, the board will consider funding $120,000 in economic development initiatives.

"We are in this shape because our tax digest is inverted. We do not have enough industry or commercial development in Newton County to provide a sustainable budget, and this has created a burden on the individual homeowner, as well as a strain on our revenue system," Chairman Kathy Morgan stated in a prior meeting.

Commissioners will revisit the budget in early 2010 to determine whether there is enough money to fund the economic development initiatives.

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