Newton County officials compared the local budget to six similar counties. Besides Bartow on the high end and Lowndes on the low end, no major discrepancies were found. Chairman Kathy Morgan said she will ask each department to talk to his counterpart on one or two of the counties to compare operations.
Bartow - $57 million
Carroll - $46 million
Floyd - $43 million
Lowndes - $39 million
Newton - $46 million
Rockdale - $43 million
Walton - $45 million
Without a millage rate increase, Newton County would have to cut 52 employees, Chairman Kathy Morgan told the board of commissioners Thursday.
To preserve county services, Morgan asked the board to raise the millage, or property tax, rate from 10.91 to 12.12, the rollback rate. The rollback rate seeks to collect the same amount in property taxes as was collected the year before.
The increase would cost a resident with a $150,000 homestead property an additional $67.76, and a $250,000 commercial property an extra $121. One of the county's largest industries would pay an extra $14,000.
In addition to a 12.12 millage rate, the county is also planning to add a $24 yearly recycling center fee to resident's tax bills to generate $768,000. The fee would be easy to administer and would make the solid waste fund, which contains the landfill and recycling centers, self-funding, officials said.
The solid waste fund has been subsidized by the general fund in past years. In addition, the fee would pay for Keep Covington-Newton Beautiful, which would be moved to the solid waste fund. Morgan said the solid waste fee could be partially offset for city residents by reducing the landfill tipping fees charged to cities by $1 per ton.
Those two changes would bring the county's expected fiscal year 2012 revenues to $46.28 million, nearly identical to the current $46.3 million budget.
The sheriff's office would receive the same funding as last year, with a $150,000 increase to cover higher fuel prices. The jail would also receive a $214,421 increase because of higher costs to feed and medically treat prisoners.
The recreation commission would be given a $120,000 increase from last year to run its four added facilities, Cousins Gym, Denny Dobbs Park, Fairview Park and the Nelson Heights Community Center. However, Morgan said that recreation programs will have to pay for themselves, which will necessitate price increases for certain programs.
She said a park fee would be impractical. Closing parks can also be problematic because residents will continue to use them illegally. The board is still considering a library usage fee. The county could also consider stormwater fees or pet licenses, both of which are quite unpopular, Morgan said.
E911 would get $45,000, enough money to add two dispatchers instead of the four it requested. The library would not get the increase in funding it requested.
The budget would include no money for capital projects, such as road improvements or equipment purchases. Only capital projects included in the SPLOST would be paid for. The new budget would convert five unpaid holidays to paid holidays, which will cost $321,000. Morgan and Administrative Officer John Middleton have both talked about efforts to make employees whole again.
Morgan also asked the board to consider raising the millage rate to 12.41, which would allow the county to increase public works funding by $410,579 and increase the fund balance by $100,000, which she said would help protect the county's bond rating.
The board discussed which services are mandated by federal and state, including school resource officers, the landfill, libraries, parks, the Washington Street Community, Head Start, the Newton County Community Partnership and the county's weatherization program.
The county's next budget work session will be June 6 at the Historic Courthouse.