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Budget approved at June 27 called meeting

In a called meeting Thursday, June 27, commissioners passed the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 by a 3-1 vote with commissioner James Jenkins in opposition and commissioner Jason Proctor absent.

At the June 27 called meeting, commissioners spent more than an hour discussing different aspects of the $33.8 million budget and it was noted by county manager Brandon Rogers that nearly $1.5 million could be used from the fund balance to cover expenses in the budget based on the county digest and what the millage rate will have to be set at. Last year’s budget was $21.2 million. The adopted General Fund Budget is $17,424,252, just slightly up from last year’s $17,063,224. The big difference between the $21.2 million and $33.8 million is the county accounting for SPLOST projects that are not figured into the General Fund.

Rogers noted that the unexpected expenses that stood out to him and led to the budget increase were an extra $270,000 for elections “because of regulations from the state you can’t control,” the cost of fuel doubling and increases in salaries. It was noted that the fire budget department increased by $291,464 in order to add two paid staff members for shifts from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. so the county will have first responders on duty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“Calls have increased dramatically year after year and continue to rise. I don’t think you can put a number on a life,” said Rogers. “We started to make that change by having paid firefighters last year and we have continued it this year.”

The county manager said he put the budget together based on what he believed the board wanted. It was noted that the county’s digest won’t be set until September so the millage rate won’t be set until that time.

“Based on the budget that I’m recommending today, I’m predicting that when the digest is determined that we may not want to take the entire rollback amount,” said Rogers. “It is important to point out that ARPA funding goes away in the next year or two and that is what is helping with cash flow for the county. One thing that will help is getting assessments done earlier so we will get revenues early in the year. I do think the county’s reassessment will gain some value and we will back off a few expenses that we are having to pay this year which will reduce the annual expenses for the next budget.”

Rogers said the total cost of the re-evaluation and penalty would be around $400,000 but that would be a cost the county can avoid in the future.

The biggest drops in budgeted funds compared to last year were at the agribusiness department and the water department due to ARPA funds used to reduce the department’s debt.

Compared to the previous year’s budget, the agribusiness budget dropped from $573,000 to $88,450 and the water authority budget went from $213,245 to $4,900.

“We need to do our jobs and make decisions based on what is best for the county. We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do,” said chairman Briar Johnson. “If the millage rate comes back and we can’t roll back, then we can’t roll back. We still have to do what needs to be done. We decided not to make cuts in the road department and buildings and grounds and we made other tough decisions to benefit citizens.”
It was noted early in the meeting that the public works department would be hiring a new director and four new light equipment operators. Four new mowers – at a total cost of $347,000 – are in the budget as well as the salaries for the employees so the county can continue to cut the grass along dirt and paved roads. The Journal Reporter asked after the meeting about the county’s paving program and Rogers said the county would not be paving roads as they have over the past several years at this time.
Commissioner Tim Daniel noted the county would see an increase of around $360,000 in the General Fund budget compared to the previous year when not considering special revenue funds.

“We’re not in terrible shape compared to our current budget year,” he said. “Also, we are not the only county or municipality or government that is in this situation.”

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