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BOC approves $55.1 million FY'09 budget
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The Newton County Board of Commissioners approved the county's $55.1 million Fiscal Year 2009 budget at its Tuesday night meeting. The board also voted to keep the same millage rate for county operations as last year - 9.73.

Millage rates for the hospital indigent fund (1.2), emergency medial services (.45), the state of Georgia (.25) and fire services (.79) also remained the same as last year.

Real, personal and public utility taxes are projected to bring in $26.67 million in revenue for FY 2009. Ad valorem taxes and the Local Option Sales Tax are projected to bring in $2 million and $8.6 million respectively.

With property assessments falling off this year due to surplus of unoccupied homes, county officials had a tougher-than-usual time writing this year's budget than in years past when soaring growth rates meant an ever-expanding tax base.

"It was a challenging budget process because of the flat-lining of revenues," said County Administrative Officer John Middleton. "I certainly am appreciative of the work of the Board of Commissioners, other elected officials and department heads for working together, recognizing that we had revenue issues [and] that we weren't going to see the kind of growth that we had seen in the past."

While the county experienced an $8 million drop in its net tax digest from the reassessment of real property values, other net changes to the digest resulted in a $126 million increase in the county's net digest from 2007, leaving in a total digest of $2.96 billion, according to a spreadsheet prepared by the Tax Commissioner's Office.

"I think it's a credit to the department heads for staying within their budgets last year," said County Chairman Aaron Varner. "By doing so, I think that allowed us to have a little flexibility. We're also gong to have to call on them to do it again this year."

Despite flat revenues, the BOC was able to find enough money to pay for a 3 percent cost-of-living pay increase for all county employees, effective July 1, and a 2 percent merit pay increase, effective on employment anniversaries.

"It was that collaborative effort that really made that happen," Middleton said of the pay increases.

No new personnel are scheduled to be hired this year said Middleton. Eight open positions at the Planning and Development Department have been frozen. As permit fees have largely been used to fund the department's operations, Middleton said the recent drop in volume of building permits necessitated the freezing of the positions. If department activity picks up again, unfreezing the positions will be looked at.

Public safety again received the lion's share of county expenditures for FY 2009 at 45 percent. Correctional/jail expenses were budgeted at $9.53 million while law enforcement was granted a budget of $9.49 million. Fire services received $4.66 million.

The Recreation Department received the greatest share of appropriations at 31 percent, followed by the library and debt/grant matching at 15 percent and 13 percent respectively.

For FY 2009, $2.8 million has been allocated for road improvement projects, according to Middleton.

From last year, the county's budget increased by $1.8 million. Each day it costs $150,977 to run the county at a cost of $6,291 an hour.