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BOC reaches budget consensus

COVINGTON -- It took seven budget work sessions, but the Board of Commissioners finally reached a consensus to adopt the rollback millage rate of 11.59 mills Thursday night.

Commissioners do not vote at work sessions. A date for a public hearing and vote has not been set.

Commissioners Lanier Sims, Nancy Schulz and Levie Maddox consented, while Commissioners John Douglas and J.C. Henderson dissented.

Four budget options were presented Thursday, two by Chairman Keith Ellis and two by County Manager John Middleton.

Both of Middleton's options were for adoption of the rollback, with a budget of $45,952,201. One funded Nelson Heights and Washington Street community centers at $40,000 each as requested by Henderson. The other funded the two centers at $32,000. Schulz supported the $32,000 option, while Sims and Maddox initially supported the $40,000 option. They agreed to transfer their support to the $32,000 option in order to reach a consensus, with the stipulation that the board revisit Nelson Heights funding in December.

Schulz said she did not support funding at $40,000 because Washington Street asked for only $36,000. While Washington Street does an excellent job, Schulz said, Nelson Heights is an unproven entity. Schulz said it's unethical for Henderson to be chairman of the Nelson Heights board of directors and request and vote on an appropriation for that entity.

Henderson asked Ellis to verify whether or not a conflict existed. Ellis said the attorney decided it was not a conflict for Henderson to be chair but he doesn't know if a decision was made on whether Henderson should recuse himself or abstain when voting on a financial decision. Henderson requested a written opinion from the attorney.

The consent budget would reduce the Recreation Commission's appropriation by $90,555, from $1,713,489 to $1,622,934. Increasing funding to Nelson Heights and Washington Street would have reduced the recreation budget by another $16,000. Schulz pointed out that the Recreation Commission serves the entire county, while those organizations serve a small portion of the population.

The consent budget includes an additional $30,000 appropriation to the Chamber of Commerce for economic development, increasing the county's appropriation to $150,500.

The Sheriff's Office budget will increase, though not as much as the sheriff requested. The sheriff initially requested an approximately $4 million increase, but will get about $440,000 more.

There is a spike to the solid waste budget of $750,000 due to required payment on a GEFA loan. The budget includes anticipated revenues from a user fee for recycling centers. A committee is expected to be formed and to meet during the next few months to address ways to increase solid waste revenue. That may or may not include the user fee, Ellis said. Henderson opposed all budgets presented because they included the user fee and said the public should have input first.

Ellis presented two options to keep the millage at the current 10.91 mills. He said constituents asked him to find a compromise and keep the millage rate the same. The first option was a 5 percent cut to departments and appropriations. Douglas was the only supporter. Middleton previously said a reduction in force would be required if the current millage is maintained. The second option required dipping into the fund balance. No commissioners supported that option. The fund balance affects a county's credit rating and ability to borrow. The fund balance is currently at about $6.6 million, or around 15 to 16 percent of the total budget. Commissioners were warned several years ago by auditors about the county's low fund balance and have worked to increase that, said Schulz. The recommended fund balance is between 15 and 22 percent of the total budget.

Schulz said dipping into the fund balance "is the most dangerous thing we can do to this county."

Also, with no contingency on the 10.91 millage budgets, "one tornado, one flood, we are done," she said. "We have choked ourselves to death. The problem with that is we may have saved perception of going with the millage rate, but we've killed ourselves and that's a really dangerous precedent and that's a dangerous road to go down."

The consent budget includes a $100,000 contingency.

"This board has done a magnificent job I think of coming to a consensus tonight," Ellis said. "It was rather difficult but ... it was the most important vote we'll be making this year. It affects 100,000 constituents. I know none of us are going to take that lightly."

After the meeting, Ellis thanked the county staff, especially Middleton and Finance Director Michelle Kelly, for their hard work.

Comments

dennistay53 1 year, 3 months ago

I was the only citizen in last yearspublic hearing to thank the board for not increasing tax. I believe that gives me the right to make this response. Commissioners this will give you increased revenue temporary but will hurt this county in the long run. You can't borrow your way out of debt nor can you tax your way to prosperity for Newton county. The only way Newton's future becomes brighter is by increasing the tax base with positive growth and jobs coming to the county. You just hired a lady who has a track record of bringing jobs to Jackson county and members on the board with connections to the Governor and state who can help bring jobs to Newton county. Now you have thrown them under the bus by making them having to explain to business and company with jobs why they should locate to Newton County.

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dennistay53 1 year, 3 months ago

Many including myself were lead to believe that if the 2011 SPLOST was approved that there wouldn't be a need for a millage increase. The ones who voted for this will be rewarded with a property tax increase by 4 members of this board. I guess we found out why the board went to a county mgr- to raise tax. I have not always been kind to John Douglas and i am a big enough man to realize i was wrong. He is the only one who truly represents the property owners and taxpayers of Newton. There is a reason he win elections by large margins. I will begin now working on a organized effort to defeat the next county SPLOST as with the school splost but this time with more organization and more of my money. The property owners of our county deserve better.

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Shart15 1 year, 3 months ago

VOTE SCHULZ OUT IN 2014 tax and spending your money via rollbacks.

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henrystamm 1 year, 3 months ago

What happened with the promise to reduce the millage rates after the approval of Splosh? The lies by the tax and spenders is in full effect. You get what you vote for, Sad.

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Del 1 year, 3 months ago

Very sad but typical for politicians of today...tell em anything to get a vote.. You commissioners need to figure out how to cut from YOUR budgets the same way we had to cut from OUR budget from the longest Dodd / Frank induced recession in Americas history

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dennistay53 1 year, 3 months ago

Fayette County has a larger population than Newton ( appox 7,000 more by 2010 census) They have a general budget bit over $41,100,000. Newton can't make it on $44, 898,056 and have to go to $45,940,886 ? Fayette can operate on a millage of 5.645 but Newton can't on 10.91 General and have to go to 11.59 or twice as high as Fayette County? No wonder Fayette get's more revenue from other sources than Newton. Wouldn't you rather put your business in a county where you would pay half the property tax? Of course Fayette does not have a fulltime chairman or fulltime county mgr to look for areas to spend and waste money. They run on 5 parttime commissioners and executive assistant even though they have more people than Newton. Bet they don't have the legal fees we do either.

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termlimits 1 year, 3 months ago

The 5% cut from each department was the way to go but no one wanted to even speak the words "cuts", "lay-offs", "down-sizing". It's called a "tough decision" and I've had to do it at my company many times over the last 29 years. It's the most heart-wrenching thing I have ever done but it had/has to be done. Don't want to lay people off - hey, increase the furlough days. No wait, that would mean commissioners would have to go back on campaign promises so they simply increase taxes instead. This board refuses to make those decision so now property owners will pony up more. A minimal amount you say? Maybe so but that's what Obama says about taxing the wealthiest in the country and giving to the poorest. They don't need that money is what he says. One more thing. You have just handicapped the Chamber and it's recruitment of new businesses. Congrats to the BOC! Lastly, please don't hail this as an achievement by the board. How do you congratulate a board for raising taxes on property owners? Regards, Termlimits

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BenFranklin 1 year, 3 months ago

Chairman needs to volunteer to go to part time. What better way to show support for your own budget proposal. Show us what you're really made of and remind me why I voted conservative. It sure wasn't for this tax increase this Chicago gang is planning.

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dennistay53 1 year, 3 months ago

This economy has hurt most everyone, not just government. Property owners and business have had to cut and fund the most important while letting other stuff go. They can't go out and get money from government or others when they have a shortage.

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TruthDetector 1 year, 3 months ago

Voters remember their names and put them on your refrigerator. Vote SIMS OUT in 2014 and VOTE SCHULZ OUT in 2016 and Henderson too if he caves. VERY DISAPPOINTED in MADDUX why did any of us support him? WHY????

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