County commissioners got a look at the Chairman's proposed $59.3 million 2014 budget, which is 6 percent more than 2013 and would require dipping into the county's fund balance but does not include the salary increase request from the sheriff's office.
County Finance Director Roselyn Miller presented Commission Chairman Richard Oden's proposed budget at the Tuesday work session. The budget includes 20 additional positions requested.
The county anticipates a 2 percent decrease in the tax digest, according to estimates from the Tax Assessor and Tax Commissioner, said Miller. If millage rates are kept at the same level, the county would have to draw down its reserves by about $6.3 million, or 16.25 percent, to balance the budget.
The reserves are currently about $38.8 million. The BOC recent passed a policy that required the fund balance to be at least 35 percent of its operating budget, which would mean $20.7 million.
Miller said the county had not had to go into its fund balance for the last two years. She warned that if it did decide to draw from reserves for 2014 and continued to do so at the same rate, in two years the fund balance would be below the required level.
Oden pointed out other counties that depleted their fund balances found themselves in dire straights.
"That's stepping on thin ice. I don't think we as a community need to go there,"Oden said
Commissioner Oz Nesbitt said, "This is a great time for us to hear even more from the citizens.. if you're asking for premium police protection and a responsive 911, now is the time to speak up, My support has not changed and will not change. I'm recommending we give the sheriff's office and fire department their requests." He added that he had turned in his proposed budget to Miller.
Oden said he was waiting for a mandate from residents before increasing taxes to pay for the public safety increases.
"You heard me say a week ago what's the bottom line... I don't need three emails, I need 46,000 emails saying raise my taxes," said Oden. "That's the only way you're going to get it... that's the way you get to the numbers you want to get... if the citizens want this, you blast this county with emails saying raise my taxes; you make my decision easier."
He continued, "Until then we have to be fiscally responsible. Public safety is important, just like the guy that does transportation, just like the guy that picks up the trash."
Nesbitt asked Sheriff Eric Levett if he would stand with the BOC if the commissioners asked for a tax raise.
Levett replied, "I understand you're looking for the 46,000 emails to tell you what to do. I hope and pray that you will find the resources to find ways to make that happen. It's not our job; it's our job to make the proposal. I will stand with you to help you get there. I hope you will be able to get there without reaching out to the public and raising taxes, but I believe the citizens of Rockdale County will support" the sheriffs office requests, he said.
Commissioner JaNice Van Ness said, "Somebody thinks the fund balance is a purse that magically opens and people get whatever they want. We can't promise everybody they can do everything they want."