The county’s budget deficit quandary engaged local political parties over the past month by sparking the classic debate over the size and role of government and the amount of taxes the government should levy.
The Newton County Republicans and Democrats both rallied in the Square Wednesday night to make their feelings known before the Board of Commissioners decided on the fiscal year 2010 budget.
Republican State Senator John Douglas (R-Social Circle), Newton County Republican Chairman Ester Fleming and District 5 Commissioner Tim Fleming all spoke in opposition to raising the county millage rate.
Douglas also took a hard stand against cutting any public safety jobs, because he said the basic function of local government is to provide public safety. He said the county can’t afford to reduce the number of deputies or firefighters.
Douglas said the previous proposed budget also contained pork projects requested by individual commissioners. Douglas said the state government cut pork and other non-vital appropriations of its budget, including: $6 million in Local Assistance Grants, $10 million in Probation Diversion Centers, $110,000 in payments to the Golf Hall of Fame and $90,506 by shutting down the post office in the Capitol building. Locally, $200,000 set aside for the restoration of the Porterdale gymnasium was also taken out of the state budget.
Douglas suggested worker furloughs and more strict cuts by departments, which the county has already considered. He also said the county should cut other services outside of public safety temporarily if that’s what needs to be done.
The Democrats agreed that public safety should not be reduced, but they said that public safety jobs aren’t the only important jobs in the county. One handout, written by Democratic Committee Member Sarah Todd, said that clean water, well-maintained roads and public health were also vitally important and that the library and other services filled important gaps in citizen’s lives.
Jeanette Deleva, vice president of the Trelawney Home Owners Association, said that code enforcement officers were as equally important as sheriff’s deputies in keeping crime down in neighborhoods. She said a decrease in code enforcement officers would be a problem because of declining property values and an increasing number of foreclosures.
Charles Woods, former chairman of the local Democratic party, said he appreciated the fact that the Republicans realized that some things, like public safety can’t be cut. However, he said the talk about pork made him nervous, because the term is ambiguous and one’s person pork is an important project to another person.
Former County Chairman Hubert White said the budget increased much more quickly than the population in the 1990s and as a result the budget was inflated. He said the county should temporarily remove the commercial impact fee to bring more retail to the county, and then the county would have an improved sales tax revenue.
Although the BOC approved a budget that did not increase the millage rate and did not cut public safety jobs, these issues will not be going anywhere, especially if the economy continues to slump. Although the Sheriff’s Office didn’t lose any jobs, it also didn’t get money for additional positions that Sheriff Ezell Brown requested.
Chairman Kathy Morgan said citizens will see a decline in some services, but the county is hoping that the decline will be minimal.