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Posted: April 5, 2009 12:01 a.m.

County projects $8.6 mill. deficit

Departments asked to cut 20 percent for FY 2010

The Newton County Board of Commissioners got their first look at the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2010, and the sight wasn’t pretty. The county is projecting an $8.6 million deficit.

"We’re $8 million in the hole; that’s the biggest deficit I’ve ever had to deal with," District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing said. "I thought $5 million (the FY 2009 budget deficit) was bad."

Despite the grim outlook, Chairman Kathy Morgan stressed that these are only the initial numbers and that the commissioners will balance the budget. She said the board will have budget meetings and work sessions over the next two months to cut unnecessary expenses wherever they can.

"You shouldn’t get too caught up in the numbers," she said. "Right now the departments are providing us with their ‘wish lists’; providing what they think they need to do their job for the next year."

The county’s initial projections place expected revenue at $47.8 million and expected expenses at $56.4 million. The deficit is due to consistently declining revenues, including an expected decline in property taxes. County Administrative Officer John Middleton said the tax digest, which is the value of all taxable property in the county, is expected to be reduced by 7 percent this year because of property devaluation. With the current millage rate of 9.73, the county would collect $26 million in property taxes in FY 2010.

Morgan has asked all departments to cut 20 percent of their original budgets from FY 2009. The original county FY 2009 budget was $55.1 million. In their preliminary budgets, some departments have made significant cuts, others have made small cuts and some have asked for increases. Morgan said eight departments had not made cuts.

The Newton County Sheriff’s Office will again be at the forefront of the budget process, as it would account for approximately 39 percent of the county’s total budget. The NCSO is asking for an increased budget to add personnel and equipment.

Because of the size and importance of the department Morgan said the board would schedule another work session or two to better understand and compare expectations for FY 2010.

The other constitutional officers and judicial employees presented budgets for their departments Friday evening, including the probate court judge, superior court judges, clerk of superior court, public defender, district attorney, coroner and the juvenile court. All officers said they were cutting costs wherever possible, including the coroner, whose budget is less than $65,000. Cost-cutting measures for the departments included reducing travel and automobile expenses, looking for more grant money, restructuring operations to make do with less personnel and replacing some paper processes with digital ones.

The next budget meeting is at 6 p.m. April 13 at the Newton County Historic Courthouse.

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