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BOC approves rollback budget; see attached budget documents
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Correction: The net tax digest dropped by $481 million from 2009 to 2010, not the $21 million figure that was improperly included in the original story. The $481 million reduction represents a nearly 17 percent year-to-year reduction. The 2010 net digest is $2.36 billion; the 2009 net digest was $2.84 billion.

The Covington News strives to have its news reports be fair and accurate. It is our policy to promptly correct all factual mistakes. If you find an error, please report it to us by calling (770) 787-6397.
The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve a $46.3 million budget, which will use the 10.9 rollback millage rate, and cut about 50 employees. The board won't officially adopt the 10.9 rollback rate until the July 6 BOC meeting because the budget now has to be re-advertised in The News for a minimum of 14 days.

Commissioners Mort Ewing and Tim Fleming voted against the budget, and both expressed preference for the 9.73 millage rate budget which would have been a $43.5 million budget.

By choosing the $46.3 million budget, the board avoided cutting an additional 46 employees, nearly all of whom would have come from public safety, Chairman Kathy Morgan said after the meeting.

She estimated that about 22 law enforcement personnel will be cut, as opposed to the 60 positions that could have been cut under the 9.73 budget. The sheriff's office, court system and tax commissioner's office will all see 5 percent reductions from last year's budgets, instead of the 14 percent reductions originally planned for them.

Ewing and Fleming said they felt that raising the millage rate would force businesses and industries to cut jobs, and they didn't want to spare county jobs at the expense of private sector positions.

Fleming said if the county raised its rate that would just add to the burden placed on families and businesses that would already be facing a 1.79 mill increase from the schools and a possible 4-mill increase in Porterdale.

"That is a substantial tax increase for the homeowners in that part of the district, in that part of the county, and the business owners, (which) none of them can afford at this time," Fleming said.

Commissioners J.C. Henderson, Nancy Schulz and Earnest Simmons voted in favor of the rollback budget, and all three said they couldn't support cutting public safety any further.

"I am a small business and understand the impact to small business and our business community," Schulz said. "My greatest concern is that I represent a district, as you can see the numbers from the sheriff's department, that has a considerable amount of crime related statistics and I cannot see that as a business we are benefited by putting our citizens at risk for their safety nor our business at risk as well."

After the meeting, Sheriff Ezell Brown said he was pleased with the decision.

"This is a good vote for our office, even though it wasn't unanimous. We appreciate the work of the board of commissioners and all they've done for us," Brown said. "We will continue to strive to be the greatest sheriff's office in the state of Georgia."

In addition to reducing the cuts to law enforcement and the courts, Morgan said the budget also includes money to open up the new Porter Memorial Branch Library, whenever construction is completed. Originally, the library was going to be left closed for all of FY2011 in order to save approximately $300,000. Construction is expected to be completed around January 2011.

However, the cuts to public works are even greater than previously expected at 17 percent, or an extra $300,000 reduction. The budget calls for the water resources and engineering departments to be consolidated into either the public works or planning and development departments; however, the specifics have not been worked out.

Overall, the newly approved budget cuts nearly $2 million from last year's $48 million budget. It's the second straight year the BOC has had to make significant cuts to the county budget, as property values continue to decline.

The county tax assessor's office previously presented a finalized net tax digest of $2.36 billion to local governments, down $481 million from last year's $2.84 billion net tax digest. In revenue numbers, the county is projecting to collect $4.68 million less in total property taxes than last year based on the current millage rate.

Morgan said the board is still considering whether it wants to take over operation of its recycling centers and lawn care. The county could save as many 21 jobs and about $425,000, by reallocating employees to those positions and reducing their wages; the biggest savings would come from avoiding unemployment payments.

For more details and thoughts from commissioners and county officials see Friday's edition of The Covington News.