COVINGTON, Ga. — County officials unveiled a revised 2022 budget plan Tuesday that cuts $500,000 in spending and delays new hiring until January while retaining a 4.5% pay increase for almost 700 county employees.
During a special called meeting Tuesday the Newton County Board of Commissioners heard details of the revisions County Manager Lloyd Kerr made to the first version of the 2022 budget that he gave to board members June 1.
Kerr on June 15 asked for a month's delay in approval of the budget after saying he wanted to make enough cuts to preserve across-the-board pay increases.
He said the county government needed the increases to remain competitive for new employees and retain existing employees in a tight labor market.
Meanwhile, commissioners generally had indicated they wanted to approve a property tax rate lower than the current 12.916 mills to offset an anticipated increase in tax bills because of higher assessments from rising land values.
The spending plan released June 1 totaled $78.1 million in the General Fund and $119.2 million for all funds.
Kerr said the new version of the budget contains a revised General Fund total of $77.6 million, which is a $500,000 decrease from the June 1 version.
The $500,000 will be used to help balance expenditures with the revenues from whatever lower property tax rate can be calculated based on the new tax digest, he said.
The new General Fund total represents a 1.4% increase in expenditures compared to the 2021 budget.
When the General Fund is added to all other funds that make up the budget it totals $118.6 million and represents 41% of additional spending compared to 2021.
Kerr said the increase is “largely due to budgeted expenditures” in the 2017 SPLOST fund that only gets its revenue from a 1% sales tax.
He said changes he made to reduce the June 1 budget included use of more than $1 million in 2017 SPLOST revenues — rather than the General Fund — to pay the company ABM for what the county owes on a contract to provide energy savings in county government facilities.
Other changes included a decrease in spending by $379,000 by delaying the hiring of 30 new full-time and two new part-time employees until January 2022.
He said he did not anticipate hiring delays affecting operations. The time required to train many employees meant they would not be ready until around October anyway, he said.
“I don’t know that it will make that significant of an impact,” Kerr said.
Commissioner Stan Edwards said he was concerned about the delay in hiring code and building inspectors. About 90% of the calls he receives are about inspection delays, Edwards said.
Kerr said the inspector positions are difficult to fill and the county is considering relying on builders to hire private inspectors to provide reports to the county, which Georgia law allows.
He also said the decreases he made in the budget were offset by a number of spending needs he found — such as a larger-then-expected increase in a contract with Naphcare totaling $106,000 for medical services at the Newton County Detention Center, and $300,000 for overtime pay for the fire department that had not been included in the original budget.
The budget still includes proposed increases of between 3.5% and 4.5% for the 694 employees on the county’s salary grade plan — including those in departments headed by constitutional officers.
Kerr said a pay increase for all positions was needed in such departments as Public Works where some jobs have a starting pay as low as $11 an hour. An equivalent private sector position is paying about $13 an hour, he said.
An additional public hearing on the revised plan is set for Aug. 3 at 6 p.m., followed by final approval of the budget at a 7 p.m. meeting, at the Historic Courthouse at 1124 Clark St. in Covington.