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BOC considers fees to boost revenue

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- Commissioners are still trying to find ways to increase revenues so the county can continue to operate and provide services desired by residents despite a bleak upcoming fiscal year.

One possibility is charging residents fees for certain unmandated services, such as parks, libraries and recycling services, said Chairman Kathy Morgan. Another is raising taxes.

"I think this is going to be the hardest decision any of us ever have to make," Morgan said. Morgan said taxpayers will get hit either way. Not increasing taxes will mean cuts to services, she said.

Some board members indicated they'd like more information on fees for services that are not mandated by the state or federal governments. Commissioner Mort Ewing said he'd be interested in exploring implementing a park pass similar to what the state uses for its park system.

"I feel like our responsibility as a board is to first figure out a way to fund mandated services and then figure out a way if there is anything left to do other things," he said.

In addition to permits for library and recreation facilities, another option would be requiring hang tags for vehicles of residents who use local recycling centers. Morgan estimated at $10 per permit, that would raise more than $300,000 annually.

Licensing of pets could also be considered she said, but pointed out that the board received such negative feedback on that matter last year that it dropped those discussions. Also under investigation is offering curbside garbage collection service for residents. The service would be outsourced and while it wouldn't be a big money-maker, revenue to the county should top expenses, said Administrative Officer John Middleton.

More research will have to be done on the legality of such fees and how they would be administered, Morgan said.

Commissioners are grappling with a projected $2.6 million shortfall in revenues. The millage rate would have to be raised from the current 10.91 to 12.21 mills to make up the shortfall. To meet the proposed budget of $48.4 million, the millage would have to be increased to 13 mills. Morgan said she doubted the board would be willing to make that hike.

Commissioners asked that the current $46.3 million budget be used as a starting point for setting next year's budget.

"To entertain anything higher than that amount would be unrealistic," said Commissioner Nancy Schulz.

Middleton recommended restoring at least five unpaid holidays to employees at a cost of more than $320,000, while reducing some allocations to organizations, like Washington Street Community Center and Alcovy CASA.

Before new staffers are hired in any department, Middleton said he believes benefits to existing personnel should be restored.

Commissioners are also grappling with an inadequate fund balance. The fund balance is currently at 9 percent. If increased, as recommended by the county auditor, to 15 percent, that would put it at about $6.9 million. That's about $5 million less than what would be required to operate the government from July through the first of October, when tax revenue start coming in, Morgan said.

"Funds are tight enough that I think the board is probably going to have to consider borrowing money to get through the first three months of the year. It's something I don't want to do ... and I'm trying to figure out a way to adjust the budget so that will not be necessary," she said.

The board's next budget work session will take place at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Newton County Historic Courthouse at 1124 Clark St.