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Posted: June 3, 2014 9:28 p.m.

How the county budget affects you


Property values are rising, which means property tax revenue would rise, but the Newton County Board of Commissioners promised it would lower the tax rate during the next two years. This leaves officials with the same budget old budget dilemma: keep taxes as low as possible or spend more to help employees and improve some county services?

What are the budget options?

Chairman Keith Ellis and multiple commissioners have said the goal is to lower the millage rate (the formal name for the property tax rate) this year; the question is “How much?”

If the county was to keep the millage rate the same next budget year (the 11.54 rate), it would collect an additional $1.73 million in property taxes – this includes taxes paid on land, buildings, timber, motor vehicles and mobile homes.

Increased budget requests from departments were well above that $1.73 million, which means the commissioners would have tough choices even if they weren’t planning to lower the millage rate.

County Manager John Middleton presented the board with four millage rates to show them how much revenue would be collected under each one. (See one of the photos above this article and look at the revenue projections PDF.)

The rates range from the rollback rate of 10.663 - the rollback is the rate at which property tax collections for land and buildings (and other things) would remain the same taking into account value changes) - to last year's rate of 10.91 to the current rate of 11.54.

While Commissioner Nancy Schulz is in favor of lowering the rate this year, she cautioned against lowering the millage rate too much if it meant the county government would have to turn around and raise it again next year.

What about expenses?

The expenses side is more complicated.

For this current year (the county’s budget years run from July 1 to June 30), the county’s budgeted expenses were $45.95 million.

The above number includes all departments except for the landfill/recycling centers and water department, which have their own separate funds that do not generally receive property tax revenue (though the recycling centers lose enough money that their fund receives a subsidy).

The number also includes the all the various outside groups (referred to collectively as appropriations) the county supports, including the recreation commission, library system, 911 center, chamber of commerce and community centers, among others.

The proposed expenses for the next budget year is $49.06 million. So, even if the millage rate remained at its current 11.54 rate ($48.83 million in revenue), there would still be a deficit of $728,041.

That $49.06 million figure includes giving employees back five paid days, eliminating the last of the furlough days implemented during the cuts following the housing collapse. That increase alone costs about $500,000.
Appropriations account for $720,933 of the increase.

However, that’s not all of the requests.

That $49.06 million is simply day-to-day costs, such as supplies, small equipment and maintenance costs.

Several departments also requested new vehicles, larger equipment purchase and employees, none of which is included in the expense total.

While some or all of the $1.48 million in requested vehicle purchases might be able to be covered with remaining 2011 SPLOST vehicle money, any of the $1.01 million in equipment requests and $1.53 million in new employee requests would have to come out of the county’s general fund (the main county fund, as opposed to the water fund and landfill/recycling centers fund).

(A big part of the equipment request is $283,559 to put metal detectors at the Newton County Administration Building and Historic Courthouse to prevent citizens from carrying in guns under the H.B. 60, which will go into effect July 1. See the related story next to this one for more details on this request.)

All but three of the new employee requests are for additional sheriff’s deputies and jail personnel to deal with rising call volume and a large jail population and to cut down on overtime costs and employee burnout, Sheriff Ezell Brown said after the meeting.

Middleton said these department costs have not been reduced at all by the county’s finance staff. He asked the commissioners to give him their budget priorities as they and the county’s staff will need those to begin trimming the budget to meet whatever revenue total the board selects.

The News will present more info on expenses in future editions. (Also see the attached PDF related to county department expenses to see the full details.)

Two-year budget cycle

This proposed budget is also the first one – at least in the past several years – to be prepared as a two-year budget, designed to carry the county from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2016.

So as commissioners prepare next year’s budget, they also have to keep in mind some future planning issues.

Few specific 2016 costs were highlighted Monday, with the exception of some short-term debt payments coming due in 2016.

However, Middleton provided commissioners with some future items to consider, particularly those concerning county employees.

While county employees won’t have any more furlough days, Middleton said there were a few more steps needed to make them whole, including:

- Conducting a wage study to address wage compression given lack of any annual raises during the past several years
- Restoring salary merit increases and salary increases when employees meet educational incentives

However, any raises will be costly given the county has 500-plus employees. A 1 percent pay raise for every employee would cost the county around $260,000, Middleton said, including Medicare, retirement and payroll tax payments.

Next meeting

The Board of Commissioners will have their next public budget meeting at 6:30 p.m., June 9 at the Historic Courthouse.

County Commissioner John Douglas asked for the public to be able to give comments during the June 9 meeting, and Chairman Ellis said that should be possible.

Commenting is not available.

Commenting not available.

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