Three individuals, along with district commissioners, gave comments during a public hearing on a proposed 2018 county budget at Tuesday’s Douglas County Board of Commissioners meeting that may spark more changes before the BOC adopts the budget later this month.
Commission Chairman Romona Jackson Jones suggested that the commissioners “go back and massage it (the budget) to get more of what the citizens have requested.”
Concerns were raised in the public hearing about giving county employee raises when vital departments were denied Budget Improvement Requests (BIRs) in such areas as public safety.
Douglas County resident Roy Sparks suggested dropping expenditures for external affairs by $50,000; dropping $40,000 from the coroner’s budget and decreasing parks and recreation allocations by 10 percent.
He also balked at the county allocating $343,000 to the Development Authority of Douglas County, which he said already has $2 million sitting in a bank account.
The biggest cut to the budget was to remove all recommended Budget Improvement Requests (BIRs), which totaled a $7.8 million decrease in expenditures for 2018.
Balancing the proposed $85.3 general fund budget would require moving $3.3 million from the county's fund balance.
In order to lessen the amount pulled from fund balance reserves to balance the budget, commissioners and staff had pulled all BIRs from the table, sacrificing the few requests submitted by constitutional officers and department heads that made the budget retreat cut.
Still, a 1 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for county employees to be paid the second pay period of January would cost the county $410,000,and to implement a “Phase 1 Only” 2.5 percent salary increase from a recent Salary Study for the first pay period in July would increase the cost to the county by $505,000.
As the proposed budget now stands, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office would have to wait for 22 replacement vehicles requested by a BIR at a cost of $400,000, as will a request for three court service deputies and deputies for the new tax and tag annex expected to be completed by next spring.
District 4 Commissioner Ann Jones Guider said, “BIRs are very important. Cars for the sheriff’s department put on the back burner is backward. We will have to play catch up at some point.”
She said she had been advocating for the salary survey for employees for two years, but noted, “we have to be responsible to the community. Raises should come after we fund the budget.”
Guider echoed Sparks remarks in that the budget reflected the county not being able to afford a senior center or recreation center.
“We have to postpone the senior center and recreation center until we know we have funds to furnish them and hire additional staff to run them,” Guider said.
District 1 Commissioner Henry Mitchell cautioned his fellow commissioners to take “a hard look at the brick and mortar, but when you look at the operational, you’ve got to look at the holistic structure and the quality of life for the citizens of Douglas County.”
“If you only look at the brick and mortar when we look at a community center, a new fire station, you’ll be right back to where we were 10 years ago,” he said, “and the possibility of a millage rate increase.”
One change in the revised budget would add a capital transportation fund contribution of $500,000 back into the general fund. The proposed change would also remove the Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (LMIG) transportation matching funds of $559,746 from the general fund to come from the 2016 SPLOST.
Jones said following the budget vision that she proposes that the BOC revisit all of the BIRs at the end of March 2018 and approve as many as possible. However, following Tuesday’s public hearing, this may come sooner rather than later.
Jones said, “We’re trying to balance and leverage this budget to add those items in.”
The 2018 proposed 2018 county budget is scheduled for adoption on Tuesday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. during the regularly scheduled BOC meeting.
The newly proposed budget anticipates slightly higher revenues at $81.9 million, but through cuts in spending, expenditures have been reduced to $85.3 million. This leaves a $3.369 million deficit in the 2018 budget, which would require tapping into $3.369 million of the fund balance, leaving a healthy balance of 17.05 percent or $14.5 million reserves in the county coffers.
The report revealed that revenues were increased due to expected growth and collection rate assumptions changes to the tax digest, based on a 97 percent collection rate and 2 percent climb in the tax digest.
This was changed in the proposed budget to reflect a more conservative assumption of a 1 percent growth and 94.5 percent collection rate, which would add back revenue of $1.5 million to the revenue column.