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BOC still mulling budget options

COVINGTON -- Having not yet come to a consensus on how to reach a balanced budget for fiscal year 2014, commissioners asked County Manager John Middleton and the finance staff at a work session Monday night to bring back two budgets for them to consider at their next work session.

One budget will be based on the current millage rate of 10.91 mils and one on the rollback rate of 11.59 mils.

Commissioners have not yet committed to adoption of the rollback rate. Budget requests total more than $4.5 million in excess of expected revenues of $45,861,727. If the current millage rate remains, the county would face an additional $1.3 million shortfall. Adopting the rollback rate would keep tax revenues at the same level they were last year.

Commissioner J.C. Henderson noted that while everyone wants a balanced budget, there's no agreement on how to do that.

"At some point, and it's going to have to be soon, we're going to have to make the tough decision," he said. The current fiscal year ends June 30. Commissioners traditionally approve a budget and adopt a millage rate for the upcoming year at their meeting on the second Tuesday in June. The county can continue to operate on the current year budget until a new one is adopted if necessary.

The Sheriff's Office is requesting the bulk of the increase in the budget. The sheriff has requested an increase from $8,850,738 to $10,801,389 on the law enforcement side and from $9,091,315 to $11,053,109 for the correctional side of the operation. The increase request amounts to about 2 mils, according to Middleton.

The sheriff is requesting capital outlay totaling about $1.3 million, including purchase of 11 patrol vehicles, vehicles for the Criminal Investigations Division and CHAMPS program, an X-ray machine and a transport van for court, along with repairs to the kitchen and inmate showers at the detention center. Forty-five percent of the county budget goes to fund law enforcement.

Commissioners ultimately decided Middleton and the finance department have the working knowledge of the departments to decide where to make cuts, but they spent and hour and half discussing concerns and brainstorming on ways to generate more revenue.

The solid waste fund loses money each year, and county appropriations for the fiscal year 2014 budget would total $750,000. On top of that, a nearly $400,000 debt payment is due this upcoming fiscal year related to a new cell constructed at Newton County Landfill.

Total revenues of $2,922,037 is required to balance the solid waste budget. Landfill fees and revenue from recycled materials would cover about $2.17 million, requiring a general fund appropriation of $750,000. Several commissioners have said they want to examine ways to make solid waste a more efficient operation and find a way to generate more revenue.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz said she's been on the board since the county started making budget cuts in 2009 and "there's almost no room for any kind of changes on the expense side because we've done that over the last four years. We've cut and we've cut and we've cut. So what we have to do now is we really have to look at the revenue side and how we generate more revenue."

Commissioner Lanier Sims has proposed hiring a grant writer, which he said is working well for the city of Covington and the Sheriff's Office. Commissioner Levie Maddox said he'd like an additional $40,000 in funding to the Chamber of Commerce for economic development efforts. The county currently appropriates $120,500. Maddox recommended a funding increase annually.

Schulz said commissioners need to get a handle on legal fees, which she said have been inching up. Legal fees were budgeted at $415,500 this fiscal year and are budgeted at $447,000 for next fiscal year.

Commissioner John Douglas said that while it's not a major expense in the budget, he wants to see the wrecker service put out to bid like other services in the county.

Commissioner Henderson said at some point the commission may need to consider whether both a full-time chairman and county manager are needed.

All commissioners agreed it's imperative to restore five unpaid holidays to county employees, reducing their unpaid holidays from 10 to five.

Maddox recommended increasing funding for training of employees from $5,000 to $15,000, and resuming the annual employee picnic, which was previously held twice a year.

Those funds were cut in 2009 when layoffs began, Middleton said. "It's hard to lay 50 or 60 people off and then go have a picnic," Middleton said, adding that not expending those funds probably saved half a position.

Sims noted that the county is losing employees to better paying jobs where they can get more training. Commissioners agreed they want to move in the direction of providing more incentives for employees.

Noting that some county roads are crumbling, Schulz also stressed the need for a reasonable budget for the roads department.

The board's next budget work session is 7 p.m. Monday, June 3, in the Newton County Historic Courthouse at 1124 Clark St.

Comments

Neuhierl 1 year, 4 months ago

I applaud the Commissioners who are talking about increasing revenues. It's a simple matter of math, reason and logic that more funds are needed to support the basic of services. Thank you.

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dennistay53 1 year, 4 months ago

I agree with Henderson on the need for a full time Chairman and a fulltime county mgr. But the point in time to look at this is now. One of them needs to go. If this county makes any kind of tax increase they will stab themselves in the foot as far as increasing the tax base and getting Baxter employees to buy or build here. So if they raise tax they will DECREASE total revenue in future years which will lead to furthur tax increases. They are having to pay for all this borrowing they have done in past years and ride it out. Keep the millage where it's at. Cut legal fees by $200,000 and send it to the recycle shortfall, stop out of county dumping in our recycle centers will save more. When legal time has elasped roll the SPLOST money for the civic center into the general budget. Quit turning down or delaying business such as the drag strip and go cart track that would have brought revenue in.

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dennistay53 1 year, 4 months ago

If the recycle centers are losing this much money shut them down. We may have to pay a small monthly price to have our garbage picked up but at least everyone and not just property owners will have to be the ones supporting most of this loss. This would also solve the out of county abuse of the recycle centers. Many ga counties operate this way. If we can't afford to support the community centers shut them down to until the tax base improves. I mean most areas of the county don't have these and are making out ok. Other counties shut down stuff like this when they don't have the money. Keep a good police, fire and emergency services and wack on the less important stuff when revenue is low. That is called managing. And where is the permanent 1% local tax going (LOST)? Is this included in the revenue figures reported?

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mansfield 1 year, 4 months ago

Its funny (not really) to hear this talk about a "roll back" tax hike. That's like saying something is up and down at the same time......impossible. Raising the millage rate is not rolling back anything, its simply taking more money from those who earned it and should have the right to spend it as they please. The citizens of this county don't have the opportunity to just take more money from their employment when times get tight, only government can do that. NO tax hike, regardless of what fancy name you give it.

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henrystamm 1 year, 4 months ago

Amazing how the tax and spend commissioners start spending when they hear an increase of the millage rate. Clean out the waste first starting with the commission, and then the underworked employees, and then eliminate all of the good old boys contacts with contractors that actually do not do any work.

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