Letter from County CEO Richard Oden sent out the afternoon of Friday, May 7:
Today I want to discuss with you, the citizens and stakeholders of Rockdale County, the preliminary tax digest that has been presented to me from our Tax Commissioner and what the findings mean for our 2010 budget.
The initial findings indicate that our property tax revenues are down by approximately 8% which is substantially more than the Tax Assessor originally estimated.
This means that we may have up to a $2 million dollar shortfall.
I recognize that these are difficult economic times and the downturn has hit our entire Country from coast to coast and Rockdale County is not immune; however, we have done a good job of remaining fiscally conservative and modifying our spending across the board.
I believe in transparency about the challenges we face as an agency, and often that level of transparency overshadows the very good work the County Board of Commissioners and dedicated employees have done for the citizens and stakeholders of Rockdale County.
But the good news is that now we have a clearer picture so that we can determine what additional actions steps we need to take to continue to move the County forward.
We have a real opportunity in every Rockdale County Department to pull together to overcome this difficult obstacle...we will go on the offense with set strategies and move the County across the goal to a winning balanced budget.
For more than 6 months I, along with Department Directors and their staffs have been working on a contingent shortfall management plan and we will do our best to deliver balanced options to the Board of Commissioners for consideration and approval.
We know our citizens and stakeholders recognize the very real contributions that Rockdale County Government makes every single day to the betterment of their lives.
I must tell you that we have tough decisions to make.
While I want to allay your concerns and anxiety for the immediate future, I must continue to be honest and inform you that there will be some impact agency wide.
We realize there will be various opinions about the best way to move forward...
• Whether it is looking at the governance structure;
• Funding allocations;
• Or even determining what services may be modified.
Many of the changes will require the cooperation of our citizens and stakeholders who will be affected by our current challenges.
For more than 6 months we have been identifying and implementing ways to be more cost effective and efficient.
Based on the severity of our projected revenue shortfall the following actions will be taken;
1. All non-essential travel will be eliminated.
2. All non-essential conferences and classes will be put on hold.
3. Our current hiring freeze of non-essential positions will be expanded.
4. Spending on projects that have not been awarded will be suspended, pending further review.
5. Departmental spending will be analyzed for further reductions.
We ask for your patience during this process as we make determinations that must not only reflect the best interest of the County Government, but the entire County.
We appreciate all the hard work of our Commissioners and their acknowledgement that the funding problem needs to be addressed.
We trust that together we will identify the best approach to address short-term and long-term operational needs in efforts to balance the entire County's needs while continuing to deliver the best services our citizens expect.
Thank you for your support and consideration as we face this challenge and opportunity for success together.
Richard A. Oden,
Chairman & CEO
The county is looking at a projected budget deficit of about $2 million, based on a lower than estimated drop of about 8 percent in property tax revenues, and is looking at ways to cut spending, according to a statement released Friday afternoon.
Previously, the county had projected a tax digest drop of about 3 percent. The majority of this year's 31,000 property assessments decreased in value.
The county passed a $55.4 million general appropriations budget last year, which would require some sort of millage rate increase, previously estimated between .66 mil and 1 mil.
In a released statement, county CEO and Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Oden said the departments had been looking at ways of reducing spending over the past six months.
"The initial findings indicate that our property tax revenues are down by approximately 8% which is substantially more than the Tax Assessor originally estimated."
"For more than 6 months I, along with Department Directors and their staffs have been working on a contingent shortfall management plan and we will do our best to deliver balanced options to the Board of Commissioners for consideration and approval," wrote Oden.
Effective immediately, according to the statement, the county would eliminate non-essential travel, put on hold non-essential conferences and classes, hold spending on projects that have not been awarded, pending further review, analyze department spending, and expand a current hiring freeze on non-essential positions.
Recent upper-level hirings within the last three months include a public affairs director and a purchasing manager.
Other options being examined include modifying services, governance structure or funding allocations, according to the statement.
Another factor that might affect the amount of property tax paid by homeowners is amount of Homestead Option Sales Tax - which exempts the county portion of the proprety tax - collected to apply to this year, which is down from the amount collected for last year.
Last year, the county had about $13.6 million in HOST funds, which was enough for an 80 percent homestead property tax reduction - the first time since HOST was implemented that the entire county portion wasn't exempted for homesteaded owners. Last year, the state also repealed the Homestead Tax Relief Grant, which reduced the amount of local property tax exemption the county was able to cover.
For this year, about $11.5 million was collected in HOST funds, according to Tax Commissioner Dan Ray.
Rockdale is one of the few metro-Atlanta area counties to offer a HOST funded exemption, along with DeKalb County.