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BOC has budget consensus, no tax hike
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The Newton County Board of Commissioners reached an informal consensus at Monday's work session to approve a $44.89 million budget that remains unchanged from its original proposal.

For the first time in four years, the budget is expected to actually increase slightly, rising $649,880, and that appears to have made all the difference, as the board pretty much held the line from last year in most departments.

Past years were filled with tense discussions about which department's budget, and employees, to cut, but commissioners Mort Ewing, Tim Fleming, Nancy Schulz and Lanier Sims all said Monday they were comfortable with the proposed budget, as created by County Manager John Middleton, Finance Director Michelle Kelly and staff. Commissioner J.C. Henderson did not attend Monday's meeting.

The calm budget process comes despite the fact the total tax digest is expected to decrease between 10 and 11 percent, Chief Tax Appraiser Tommy Knight said Monday, an even greater drop than last year's 8 percent decline.

The net tax digest, which is the value of all land, buildings, vehicles and equipment in the county, was $2.17 billion last year, but a 10.5 percent decline would bring it down to $1.94 billion.

While the digest won't yet be finalized for a few weeks as property value appeals are settled, Knight said he did not expect the digest to change significantly. He said he has kept Middleton updated weekly on how the digest was looking, which allowed Middleton to anticipate the budget decline in his initial budget.

The loss in property tax revenue, as no millage rate is planned, is offset by a previously discussed projected increase in sales tax revenue, $500,000 more, and $1.28 million more in insurance premium tax from the state. (For an explainer on the insurance premium tax check out our previous story here)

As far as this year's budget, some of the largest expenditures include:
- the Newton County Sheriff's Office receiving 42 percent, or $18.66 million, for law enforcement, jail operation and student resource officers
- the seven court departments (superior court, clerk of court, district attorney, etc.) receiving a total of $4.65 million
- the fire department receiving $3.88 million
- the road department receiving $3.33 million
- the 16 various groups the county supports (chamber, DFACS, library, senior services, etc.) receiving $5.89 million

For a more in-depth listing of all departmental budgets see Wednesday's paper.

The budget will include the elimination of five furlough days for county employees. Currently, employees have to take 15 furlough days, also called unpaid holidays.

Restoring five of the days will cost the county $325,000, as Middleton said previously the county pays about $65,000 per day in wages and benefits.

The five days will not revert to paid holidays but rather to regular paid working days; the county added local holidays when the furlough days were needed and will now remove those created holidays. Adding five days will increase productivity and paid hours by 1.92 percent, according to budget documents.