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 by that time 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 potential $929,000 cut could come from several areas:
- $250,000 from the general fund contingency
- $120,000 the Energy Reserve, which Middleton said was basically a contingency
- $100,000 from various budget lines in the Public Works department, the department will attempt to keep costs down as much as possible
- $107,000 in miscellaneous expenses, achieved by reducing expenditures in various departments where possible
- $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 cost of the Cell 3 expansion project; some of this money could be covered by SPLOST funding
- $77,000 added to the tax digest, for the Motor Vehicle Ad Valorem tax; this number is not included on the initial tax digest and is determined later, so assuming the county receives the same amount of money as last fiscal year, the county will receive that extra $77,000
- $75,000 added to the tax digest, because tax appeals by public utility companies have been settled; because of the previously ongoing appeals this money was not allowed to be counted on the digest, but now that they’ve been settled the extra revenue is expected to be $75,000
- $45,000 added to the budget from 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 but a contract for FY2010 is expected
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 to only 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. “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, and I don’t agree with them all … we’ll address those concerns in October.”