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Million dollar budget deficit projected

Grady County commissioners presented the 2009 operating budget for the various county offices and departments Tuesday and made a plea to both constitutional officers and department heads to make every cut necessary to reduce the overall expense of providing county services.
The meeting room Tuesday morning was packed with the constitutional officers and department heads to hear a presentation by County Administrator Rusty Moye.
According to the county administrator, the outlook financially for the county is dire, and he is projecting a $1 million revenue shortfall for the 2010 operating budget.
“At today’s digest value, the present 10.5 millage rate would have to increase by 1.67 mills to fund the 2010 bare bones budget. We’re talking about no employee cost of living raises, no additional personnel, no new equipment or vehicles,” Moye said.
He told county leaders that the commission is committed to setting a budget that would require no property tax increase in light of the nation’s economic condition.
“That is why we must begin implementing cost saving measures now,” Moye said.
For the 2009 operating budget, the commission had to dip into reserves to the tune of $654,184 in order to balance the budget without a property tax hike.
Moye says that additional money may have to come out of reserves if the state legislature does not fund the homestead tax relief grants. He also had already projected approximately $350,000 in increased costs the county will bear in 2010.
The recent passage of Amendment 1 to the state Constitution approved by voters on Nov. 4 expands the exemption from ad valorem taxes for large timber owners. That measure will cost the county and the board of education an estimated $177,000, based on 2006 figures. Moye has asked Chief Appraiser Susan Bennett to calculate the loss based on the most recent figures.
“The board of commissioners is requesting that each elected official and appointed department head examine their spending, staffing and rendered services prior to presenting their 2010 budget request and alter as necessary to insure the lowest cost has been achieved without compromising their efficiency and operability,” Moye told the county officials.
Moye also outlined measures the commission has put in place to reduce costs. He went on to say, “I urge each of us to not wait on mandates from angry taxpayers before we examine the services we provide, and what cost we, as taxpayers, are willing to pay for the most efficient methods of providing those services.”
Commissioner Al Ball commented, “I sincerely hope you all will look at this and realize we’re not asking you to do anything more than what we’re asking anyone else to do. As people resign, retire or die I would suggest that you look at how you can do your job and not fill those vacancies.”
“Every dollar counts. If you save just one gallon of gas per week and multiply that over every office and department it adds up. If you turn off a light, that is money we’re not having to spend on utilities. I would encourage you and your employees or coworkers to come up with ways to save. Perhaps we could come up with some incentives for ideas on how to save. Nothing is too small to do,” Commissioner Charles Renaud said.
Commissioner Charles Norton reminded everyone that the souring economy will also impact local sales tax collections. He noted that sales tax revenue allows the county to roll back property taxes. “I’m really worried about a decline in our sales tax collections too,” Norton said.
He added, “I’m just asking for us to all work together to keep everything managed the best we can.”
Chairman Elwyn Childs told the constitutional officers and department heads that the commission is asking for their “help,” but he was adamant that if their cooperation is not given, the board would make the cuts necessary.
“We’ve got all the confidence in the world in you, but just know that if Rusty recommends something that would save the county money and you don’t do it, we will do whatever it takes,” Childs said.
None of the constitutional officers or county department heads commented when offered the opportunity to do so.
Following Moye’s presentation and later in the meeting, Commissioner Bobby Burns offered a motion to implement a hiring freeze, but after conferring with County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley, the freeze would not apply to employees of constitutional officers, so Burns rescinded his motion.

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