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The budget process for the Board of Commissioners is entering the final countdown. A budget must be set and voted on by June 15; however, there are major decisions yet to be made. Citizens, county employees and BOC members are all keenly aware that Newton County faces a major revenue shortfall. Yet to be seen is how the BOC will determine a final budget and subsequently set a millage rate that will generate funds enough to provide modest services above and beyond those that are mandated.

Please be assured that every single board member, department head and county employee has wrestled with this dilemma for many months. None of us take our responsibility to the public lightly. The reality is that we will be forced to choose what level of service is necessary to provide a safe and viable community and how we will pay for it.

As county commissioners, we spend many hours in training and education. From new commissioner training through advanced certification, we receive over 100 hours of classes. Throughout this training, we are encouraged to make critical decisions based a long term vision for the county, focusing on the entire county (not special interests) and, above all, maintaining high ethical standards. It is within this framework that I base my perspective on balancing the FY2011 budget.

The BOC has been given two proposed budgets. One retains the current millage rate of 9.73 — in effect since 2000 — and reflects a county M&O budget of $43,515,682. The second budget reflects an increase to the millage rate of 10.9 — called a rollback rate — and a county M&O budget of $46,307,275. I, along with my fellow commissioners, have spent many hours dissecting this budget and diligently trying to find ways to make our government more efficient. Both budgets reflect a 15.6 percent decrease in county services. However, the major difference between the two budgets is reflected in funds that will be available to the judicial system and the sheriff’s office. By maintaining the millage at 9.73, I believe the cuts to these two areas of our government would be too severe and would put our citizens and our community in jeopardy. First and foremost, we are tasked at providing a safe place to live, work and rear our families.

As a small business owner, I am particularly aware of the impact of an increase on that sector. Yet, to keep the county afloat, all sectors in some way ought to be prepared to contribute. No one will escape the pain, and certainly not those making the final decision. But the alternative is unacceptable. We cannot afford the risk of becoming an unsafe community. When a community is known for its unsafe reputation, everyone suffers and our businesses and economic future will be doomed to failure.

I encourage Newton Countians, and my fellow commissioners, to consider that steps necessary to ensure the security of this community may, in fact, impact the business sector. All of us can help to offset this situation by buying locally. If you leave the county to go to work, come back to Newton County to shop. Buy your groceries, your cars, your computer supplies right here at home. Eat in our restaurants. Perhaps if we work together to find solutions to our budget crisis, next year we can reduce the millage rate and still provide the services needed to make Newton County the best and safest place to live in Georgia. Let us operate from a shared vision of all that will benefit this community for years to come.

Nancy Schulz represents District 3 on the Newton County Board of Commissioners.