BOC kicks off budget planning

COVINGTON — The Newton County Board of Commissioners kicked off its 2015 budget planning with positive news that included a decrease in spending for health insurance and the possibility of a lower millage rate.

County Manager John Middleton said based on early property value assessments, the county could reduce the millage rate from 11.54 to 10.6, but those early projections could change.

The projected revenue for fiscal year 2015 is about $46 million, which is close to the $45.9 million budget last year, Middleton said.

“We’re tracking good for revenues and expenses this year to finish on budget. Our sales tax and special local option tax incomes are strong,” he said. “We’ll continue to track our high level budgets to make sure we continue to stay on budget.”

Along with the early revenue projections, the county looked at ways to save on expenses. Gary Massey with Gary Massey Insurance Inc. in Covington presented a new health insurance choice with Cigna that could save almost $400,000. The current insurance provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield, increased its rate to $6.2 million, versus the $5.6 million proposed by Cigna.

“Employees are managing their health care better and we’re seeing better numbers, which gives us the better rate. Cigna offered a better rate than the current provider Blue Cross Blue Shield,” Massey said. “The program with Cigna is more recognizable and we can’t ignore the type of savings it’s offering.”

Commissioner Nancy Schultz said she was pleased to see a change in providers not only because of the cost savings, but also because Cigna is more widely accepted.

While the county is looking at future projections, Assistant County Manager Tom Garrett gave an overview of the historical budget trends to see what could be expected in the next few years.

Garrett said he expects property taxes to increase with the average house being sold for more than $100,000. Based on the 2013 tax digest, residential property tax makes up about 25 percent of the county’s revenue.

“It’s the price that will affect our tax digest, not really the number of houses being sold,” Garret said. “I hope to see the property tax revenues flatline and instead see the commercial and industrial tax income increase.”

Commissioner John Douglas noted that so far this year the county has issued more than 30 building permits in the first quarter of the year and if it continues, it’ll pass the 50 building permits issued in 2013.

The county will continue budget meetings as the separate committees talk with department heads more in depth about what expenses are needed and what cuts can be made.

Budget meetings open to the public are as follows:

• Friday at 8:30 a.m.

• Monday at 6:30 p.m.

• May 5 at 8:30 a.m.

• May 15 at 6:30 p.m.

• May 19 at 8:30 a.m.

All meetings will take place on the second floor of the Newton County Administrative Building, located at 1113 Usher St.