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Commissioners revise budget up and down

Grady County commissioners continued to tweak the county’s 2012 operating budget during a special called meeting Monday.
For just over two hours, the board convened to make adjustments to the spending plan and, before adjourning for the day, commissioners unanimously adopted a tentative ad valorem tax rate of 11.77 mills, which is the highest rate the county could set and avoid state required public hearings for a tax hike. The tax rate for 2010 was 10.50 mills.
Grady County Administrator Rusty Moye explained that due to the reduced value of the county’s tax digest when compared to last year, the board was able to increase the millage and not technically be voting for a tax increase.
“The law allows you to garner what was lost in the devaluation in the digest,” Moye said. Although it is not technically a tax increase as defined in state law, the county will collect $128,652 more in ad valorem taxes this year than was collected last year.
With that said, Moye also pointed out that revised budgeted costs to cover anticipated higher gas and diesel costs in addition to other revisions to the budget discussed Monday, the county will still need to pull cash from its reserves to balance the budget.
According to Moye, the county will pay debt service in 2012 on the Tired Creek lake revenue bonds of approximately $586,618 out of reserves, and an additional $221,362 will be needed in order to balance the budget if the board adopts a final millage rate of 11.77.
Chairman Charles Norton, who had hoped to keep the millage rate hike to one mill, asked what would the impact on reserves be if the board set a millage rate of 11.5 mills.
“We would have to pull out $116,446 more if you were to hold it to a one mill increase,” Moye said.
The county administrator also pointed out the county finished 2010 with surplus revenue because of lower than budgeted expenditures. “You’ve got to remember we had over $100,000 in the road department that we didn’t spend. (Road Superintendent) Yancey (Maxwell) had four vacancies that we didn’t let him fill. That money is not included in this budget. This budget is tighter when it comes down to spending. If there is any cushion, I don’t know where it is,” Moye said.
The county administrator said there is $200,000 in contingency, but “that is all,” he told commissioners this week.
Chairman Norton said fuel prices could either help or hurt the county depending on where prices fall during the year. “There could be some cushion there but, then again, they could get back up to $4 or more,” Norton said.
Commissioner Al Ball asked what would be the impact of a rate of 11.77 mills on the average residential property owner.
Moye estimated on a home assessed at $100,000, the taxpayer would pay about $22 more in taxes than in 2010.
Chairman Norton pointed out that although homeowners would likely pay less in taxes, it would be commercial property owners and businesses that feel the impact of the millage rate hike since commercial property was not reassessed by the Grady County Tax Assessor’s Office this year.
“The residential will balance out, but all businesses will see a tax increase and they are struggling, too,” Norton observed.
County Administrator Moye said that once a tentative rate was adopted, the board could vote to go lower, but they could not increase the millage rate above 11.77. He said it would take a millage rate of 12.5 mills to avoid pulling any funds out of cash reserves.
The board will vote on a final adoption of the 2011 millage rate at a called meeting on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011, at 9 a.m.
“Between now and then, if we find where to shave the budget, we could go less,” Norton said.
Although the board adjusted the budget higher to anticipate higher fuel costs, some other items were added to the budget while still others were rejected by commissioners Monday.
The county is using a rate of $3.50 per gallon for gasoline in the 2012 budget and a cost of $4.00 for diesel. Just in the road department, the budget impact is going from $26,400 up to $31,500 for gas and from $125,000 to $168,000 for diesel.
Commissioners agreed with a proposal recommended by the administrator to lease-purchase a new ambulance and as many as three new sheriff’s office vehicles.
County Shop Superintendent Larry Hunter was present Monday to give commissioners a report on the existing sheriff’s office fleet. As the budget currently stands, approximately $50,000 is being budgeted for the lease payments on the ambulance and three police cruisers.
Moye suggested the money to cover the lease payments be included and then early next year the commissioners can decide exactly how many sheriff’s vehicles to purchase.
Chairman Norton suggested the funds be placed in a separate line item for equipment purchases, rather than putting the money into the Emergency Medical Service or Sheriff’s Office budget.
According to Hunter’s report, there are 22 vehicles in the sheriff’s office fleet and he is recommending replacing or surplusing five of those. The shop superintendent rated five of the vehicles in fair condition and 10 others in good condition.
In addition to the sheriff, four investigators and 12 road deputies, Moye noted that the sheriff’s office employs part-time deputies and the county must have vehicles for those part-time officers.
Moye also asked commissioners to address some of the budget requests from the constitutional officers and department heads Monday.
One apparent winner was Clerk of Superior Court Debbie Kines who is seeking approximately $35,000 to enlarge the work space of her office and allow her use of a vault next door to her office, which is currently utilized by the county commission office.
Vice Chairman Elwyn Childs and Commissioners T.D. David and Al Ball agreed to budget the office expansion in the 2012 budget, but Chairman Norton and Commissioner Billy Poitevint opposed the expenditure.
The clerk was pleased with the news and commented Monday, “This is a very positive step in securing criminal evidence and providing my clerks with much needed workspace. I appreciate the board’s support of this request.”
Not faring as well in the budget process were Probate Judge Sadie Voyles, County Volunteer Fire Department Coordinator Wayne Hadden and senior Superior Court Judges Willard Chason and Richard Porter Jr.
In the Probate Court, Moye said a new server could be purchased for cheaper than $6,000 requested by Judge Voyles, and he eliminated funds for a separate scanner, saying the copier in the office currently has scanning capabilities.
VFD Coordinator Hadden had requested the county include him in the county’s health insurance plan, but the board was split over the request. Administrator Moye said it would cost the county $887 per month to cover Hadden on the county’s health insurance. The VFD coordinator is paid a $10,600 supplement annually to serve as the county coordinator of the 10 volunteer fire stations and the insurance benefit would be in addition to that compensation.
Vice Chairman Childs and Commissioner David favored adding Hadden to the health plan and Commissioner Ball did initially, if combined with a wage improvement for all county employees, but eventually decided against it. Although the commissioners were conducting straw votes in order to give Moye direction as to which way to go with the budget, no formal votes were taken.
With the consensus of the board being split, Chairman Norton indicated he would also oppose Hadden’s request.
“I would like to give everyone something, but we are limited in what we can afford,” the commission chairman said. He said if the county were to cover the coordinator on the health plan, he would make a motion to pay the retirement dues for all of the county’s volunteer firemen.
Senior Superior Court Judges Willard Chason and Richard Porter Jr. have also petitioned the county to reinstate their supplemental retirement pay that commissioners cut out in 2009.
Chason is seeking an annual payment of $2,500 and Porter an annual payment of $3,915. The judges contend that the other four counties in the judicial circuit are paying them the supplemental retirement and that Grady County had in the past.
County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley was asked to research the matter and he reported Monday that the county can pay the judges the retirement supplement as they had in the past, but the county is not required to pay them anything.
“They draw state retirement now. This is just an extra deal. We can’t afford to give everyone a free lunch,” Chairman Norton said. The chairman said the county only started paying the retirement supplement when a previous county attorney advised the board the judges were due the payment.
Cauley explained that the statute can be confusing but, depending on when a judge retired, determines which statute covers the retirement system for those particular judges. He noted that judges who retired in the 1960s were due a county supplement under state mandate. The county attorney pointed out that neither Chason nor Porter fall in that category.
Commissioner Ball said it was a “reasonable expectation” of the judges that the county would continue to pay the retirement supplement since it had in the past, but unless the county would also appropriate funds in the budget to help the “poorest” county employees, he could not go along with it.
Vice Chairman Childs suggested the judges may consider accepting a lower supplement rather than no supplement. He commented, “I’ve got mixed emotions about it.”
“With all the paring we’ve had to do on this budget, I’d have to oppose it,” Commissioner David said. Chairman Norton and Commissioner Poitevint also voiced opposition.
County employees also lost out Monday as no one would back a plan suggested by Commissioner Ball to increase the pay of all county employees by $10 per week per employee.
Ball explained his reasoning for a set dollar amount as opposed to an across the board percentage. According to Ball, a set dollar amount would help the employees on the lower end of the pay scale, but argued that a percentage across the board would maintain the disparity between the higher wage earners and the low wage earners.
Moye said it would increase the budget $71,000 to pay all 127 employees $10 per week per employee.
Without a consensus, Moye said he would not add in the judge’s supplement or a raise for county workers.

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