Commissioners heard more details on Rockdale County Chairman Richard Oden's 2015 budget proposal Tuesday morning during the board's voting session.
Oden's proposed budget for the coming year is $63.5 million, which is about $5.4 million, or nine percent, more than the approved budget for 2014.
Rockdale County Finance Department Director Roselyn Miller, who presented the budget to the board, stated the major reasons for the increase were to accommodate county employee raises, increases in healthcare insurance by $990,000 and the hiring of new employees.
The county will have to dip into its fund balance for about $8.9 million to balance the budget at the proposed $63.5 million amount. This would drop the fund balance down to $26.9 million.
"We as a community are going to have to make some serious decisions over the next three to four years," said Oden, who stressed that the county cannot continue to thrive by taking from the fund balance.
Oden also suggested looking into investing more into economic development to bring in more revenue.
"We are a sales tax driven community," he said. "We operate off of SPLOST, special local option sales tax, and HOST, which is a homestead option sales tax. The question (that needs to be asked), how long does this community stay with HOST? That is a community decision and not a BOC decision."
Oden stated only Rockdale and DeKalb Counties are using the HOST program out the entire state of Georgia.
"At some point, that program runs its course," he said.
The board collectively decided to schedule a county budget work session next Tuesday, Nov. 18, to hear from department heads about their requested increases. No start time for the meeting was set during the meeting, but because of the length the work session may take, it was suggested that it should start as early as 8 a.m.
Miller stated that she would inform the board about a start time at a later date.
The first reading of the proposed budget will be Nov. 25 at 10 a.m. in the Assembly Hall, 901 Main Street, Conyers.
Commissioners have until Dec. 9, the date of the second reading, to make amendments to the proposed budget. Dec. 9 will also be the date the board votes on whether to approve to the budget. The county has until the end of the year to finalize a budget for 2015.
Paying current employees and hiring new employees
In order to stay competitive with other employers in the area, Oden states that employee raises are necessary.
"We've lost some key employees," said Oden, who also claimed it cost more to train new employees versus raising the salary of current employees.
On top of the RCSO's pay and compensation plan worth $1.2 million, the proposed budget also includes a pay for performance plan and a premium pay plan worth $964,287.
The pay for performance plan could be a worth up to a four percent increase in salary, but the final details are still being fleshed out, says Miller. The premium pay plan is an incentives based plan that rewards employees who earn extra certifications or degrees for their related field of study.
Nesbitt suggested having a county-wide five percent salary increase for employees. Miller explained to him that his suggestion would have to be an amendment he makes during the budget approval process.
The budget allocates a little more than one million dollars for the hiring of 28 new employees, including two code enforcement officers for the Planning and Development department, a new attorney for the public defender office and two new deputies for the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office.
The budget also makes adjustments for five current employees who are shifting from part-time to full-time status, including an equipment operator for the Recreation and Maintenance department.
Taking from the reserves
Rockdale County's fund balance is slated to have at least $35.8 million at the end of the calendar year for 2014.
By the end 2015, if the budget is approved as is, the fund balance will hold $26.9 million. That's a nearly 25 percent decrease in reserves.
About three years ago, the county board approved a policy that states the county's fund balance cannot drop below $22.2 million, or 35 percent of operating expenses.
Also, if the county's fund balance drops below 20 percent, the board will have to establish a plan related to raising funds back to policy level. At the current rate under this proposal, the county would drop below that percentage going into the 2016 budget year.
"If there's not a tax increase, or (increases in) charges for services, if expenditures stay the same, we will be going back in the fund balance (for $8.9 million) in 2016," said Miller.
The county budget for 2015 is $2.4 million, but Oden states that's not nearly enough to accommodate all the requests from the county departments.
He says that he received over $10 million in capital budget request.
"We trimmed down the capital requests," said Oden. "We put a master capital budget plan in place (to use as reference) over the next five years."
Under the proposed capital budget, the Rockdale County Fire and Rescue will receive about one million dollars, 44 percent, of the budget to purchase replacement vehicles and fulfill other equipment needs.
The RCSO is being allotted only $95,000 for the purchase of patrol vehicles. Last year, the RCSO received nearly 75 percent of the capital budget.