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BOC delays deciding on final budget
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The Board of Commissioners did not cut nearly $1 million from the county budget Tuesday night, because Chairman Kathy Morgan and the finance staff recommended that the county wait to see how much money came in through taxes and other revenues later this fiscal year before making any budget cuts or changes.

Administrative Assistant John Middleton did present nine budget items that could be cut to make up the $929,000 budget deficit, if that continues to exist later this year. In lieu of cutting the budget now, which Morgan said could be a knee-jerk reaction, the finance staff recommended having quarterly budget reviews, where the BOC would review revenues and expenditures and be able to amend the budget as necessary.

These quarterly reviews would be in addition to the monthly financial reports the BOC receives, and would set aside explicit time for the board to meet to keep an eye on and discuss the budget.

The first quarterly budget review would likely happen sometime in October and will be an important meeting, because the first round of property taxes will have been collected on Sept. 20, and the county will have a few months of sales tax revenue figures to look over. The other reviews would likely be held in January and April.

The potential $929,000 cut could come from several areas:

- $250,000 from the general fund contingency.

- $120,000 from the energy reserve, which is a contingency for potentially volatile energy costs.

- $100,000 from various budget lines in the Public Works department; the department will attempt to cut costs wherever possible.

- $107,000 from miscellaneous expenses; this will be achieved by reducing expenditures in various departments where possible and would likely include line items like purchased services and general supplies.

- $80,000 from Senior Services, because of a federal Community Services Block Grant which will cover part of the cost previously covered by the county.

- $75,000 from the engineering budget of the construction of cell No. 3 at the landfill, which is used for solid waste disposal; some of this money could be replaced by special local option sales tax money.

- $77,000 added to the budget in form of additional motor vehicle ad valorem tax; vehicles purchased or moved to the county after the tax digest is finalized on Aug. 1 will not be listed on the digest and, therefore; the county cannot budget for that tax revenue. As a result the county normally collects more in motor vehicles tax than it budgets. The county is estimating that it will receive $77,000 in additional motor vehicle ad valorem tax revenue, because last year’s actual collections were $77,000 more than this year’s projected collections.

- $75,000 added to the budget from extra property tax revenue collected on property value that was being previously being disputed by local public utility companies; Georgia Power, CSX and AT&T are examples of public utilities. The county cannot list any disputed property value on the digest, and it cannot collect tax on disputed property. Once the appeal process is completed by the state, a process which can take years, the county can then collect property taxes on the disputed value if the dispute was found to be not valid. Some public utility company disputes were recently settled and the county is expecting to collect an extra $75,000.

- $45,000 added to the budget from the inmate crew reimbursement program; the City of Covington contracts with the county to use an inmate detail from the Newton County Jail and pays the county for the use of the supervising detention officer. The county was unsure if this program would be continued, so it didn’t put that revenue in the budget, but a contract is expected to be signed in FY2010.

Middleton said this list was made to show that the $929,000 could be cut now if needed, but he cautioned that there are a lot of other variables that will play out. One of those variables is the local option sales tax, which is a concern because it can fluctuate significantly and the amount of revenue collected through the sales tax will be an important factor in whether the above and possibly other cuts will need to be made.

He said the county can also attempt to save money by not filling any future employee positions that become available, with the exception of mandated positions and public works positions. He said the county could reconsider what positions it thinks need to be filled.

In previous budget discussions, the BOC said it would consider a few economic development initiatives, if the money became available due to higher than expected revenues. Middleton’s last recommendation was only to consider these initiatives when the county was comfortable it could offset the $929,000 deficit.

District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing thanked Morgan and Middleton for their work and for counting every penny, nickel and dime.

"I think that’s the way the county needs to be run," Ewing said.

District 5 Commissioner Tim Fleming also thanked everyone for their work, but said he had concerns about where the potential cuts were coming from.

"For us to have such a bare bones budget and to be able to come up with some money very quick, I do have concerns about that," Fleming said Tuesday. "Because we had to let 16.5 employees go in June and if money was available, we should have used it and kept employees if possible," he added Wednesday.

He said he would not support the current cuts and expects that the county might have to make even deeper cuts later this year.

"I’m looking forward to the administration keeping the commissioners involved, because we are the ones making those decisions. I have some concerns with the numbers presented tonight … we’ll address those concerns in October."