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County department heads asked to reduce budget
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County department heads are being asked to cut their budget requests back to amounts used in fiscal year 2016.

Newton County Interim Manager Lloyd Kerr told the Board of Commissioners at Tuesday night’s work session that the departmental budget requests were $10,183,807 million above estimated revenues of $52,898,892.

“We have to hold our budget to the 2016 total,” he told the commissioners. “We’ll meet with all the department heads on Friday. I do not want to make the cuts to those departments. I believe each of the departments knows their operation better than I could ever.

“Whatever the total amount of the 2016 budget is the number [department heads will] have to work with this year,” he said. “Those unable to make the necessary cuts or give justification [for their requests], will need to address you directly.”

In a Power Point presentation, Kerr showed the difference in the 2017 department requests, which totaled $55,961,786, and the $45,777,979 approved for the 2016 budget year. Some departments, he told the commissioners, would need to make significant cuts.

The sheriff’s office requested 16,108,023 million for 2017, $5.4 million over last year’s budgeted amount. Jail Operations, budgeted at $10.1 million last year, requested $12.528,619 this year, $2.3 million over 2016’s figures. The County fire service was $980,889 over 2016’s $1,121,234, requesting $6.5 million.

The amount budgeted for county appropriations, such as Georgia Perimeter College, Turner Lake, Solid Waste and the Four County industrial Park, will also drop from 2016’s $6,057,111 to $5,147,651. The most significant decreases in the county appropriations will be felt by solid waste, dropping from $1.15 million to $200,000, and Newton County Recreation, dropping from the 2017 requested amount of $1,810,385 to the 2016 amount of $1,663,804.

Appropriations for outside agencies increased slightly, from $2,581,300 in 2016 to $2,630,460. The outside agencies include the library, mental health, chamber of commerce, Head Start, E911, and Washington Street and Nelson Heights community centers.

Kerr also reported that there were currently 20 job vacancies, including firefighter engineer, grounds worker, detention corporal, maintenance workers, deputy sheriff corporals and assistant landfill manager. Should all 20 vacancies be filled, the total cost of salaries and benefits would be $1,240,569.

Kerr made three major recommendations: reduce appropriations to outside agencies; reduce costs associated with the landfill; and freeze open positions, with the exception of entry level deputy sheriffs and entry level firefighters. If a hiring freeze is put in place for the first half of the fiscal year, July to December, it would save the county $600,000, he said. If it was put in place for the entire year, the savings would be $2.2 million.

“I can dive a little further into those [appropriations] who have intergovernmental agreements and how we can reduce appropriations,” Kerr said. He said he had asked the interim county attorneys to see if the $300,000 the county spent for the library’s new HVAC system could be applied to the $981,000 requested by the library for 2017.

“I know this is not good news,” he said. “I would have liked to give you a better picture than this, but this is where we are.”

District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz said she had concerns about the estimated $26,824,648 from millage revenue.

“I’ve gone to a lot of homes during the election campaign and I’ve been told by some that the value of their house has decreased according to the tax digest.”

Kerr said he had talked to the county’s Chief Appraiser Marcus Jordan, who reported that a software glitch had devalued some properties. “I would suggest, if you would like, I would invite Marcus to appear before you at the next meeting to talk about the current appraisals/assessments.”

District 1 Commissioner John Douglas said, “Even if house prices are assessed lower, taxes would still be up [due to last year’s property tax increase],” he said. “I understand our departments need a little more money, but so do our citizens.

Unlike government, citizens can’t go get money when they need it. Only government has money trees.”

According to Kerr’s presentation, revenues from the general fund, property taxes and non-tax revenue total $52,898,892. If department heads make the requested cuts, the revised departmental requests would be $45,777,979.

However, there is a $2 million shortfall in the solid waste fund projected last year which will need to be covered in the 2017 budget.