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Newton County faces tough choices on budget
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Newton-By limiting spending, increasing revenue, the Board of Commissioners is seeking to tidy the books while keeping the budget within range of this year’s $47 million.

The board, along with Finance Director Michelle Kelly, acknowledged the legitimate needs of county departments, but nonetheless faces the reality of cutting millions from the proposed $59 million budget.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz said allowing the budget to jump $10 million in one year was “growing government excessively.” That sentiment was echoed by her colleagues.

Moreover, the board must compensate for years of under-budgeting for the true cost of several areas, including E911, impact fees, and solid waste.

All the commissioners except J.C. Henderson appeared to agree that a decal system should be implemented at the county’s 11 solid waste convenience centers, and several also appeared open to increasing tipping fees at the landfill and introducing franchise fees for haulers.

The intention is to make the solid waste program more self-sufficient, and decrease or eliminate the nearly $2 million annual subsidy the landfill and convenience centers currently receive from the General Fund.

The board also discussed impending upgrades needed for the county’s water system, with Chairman Keith Ellis suggesting a one to two percent increase in water rates to help pay for those improvements.

Both the Water Fund and the Solid Waste Fund are standalone enterprise funds, separate from the General Fund.
The board appeared to agree to limit the County Attorney’s budget to between $600,000 and $700,000, with Schulz favoring the lower number and Commissioners John Douglas, Levie Maddox, and Chairman Keith Ellis favoring the higher end of the spectrum.

“Legal is one of the few things we can control,” said Schulz, pointing out that the board had no control over the budget of other departments such as emergency services.

The county is on track to spend more than twice its legal budget of $484,000 this year.

"We do need more clarity on the invoices,” Maddox said, adding that the board needs to keep its promise to require contracts and scope of work.

One of the board’s biggest concerns is the Sheriff’s approximately $6 million proposed budget for law enforcement and the jail, representing 43 percent of the budget.

“That number’s going to have to come down, “said Douglas.

Commissioners Lanier Sims and Maddox said they would meet with Sheriff Ezell Brown and discuss ways to cut the Sheriff’s budget.

The commissioners are expected to send more cuts to Kelly before the next budget meeting on Tuesday night at 6:00 p.m.