Commissioners considering tax hike to fund budget

Grady County commissioners and County Administrator Carlos Tobar are continuing to fine tune the proposed budget for 2014.
The board and county administrator met Thursday and then again Tuesday night for a budget workshop. They will meet again this Thursday night.
Following the two meetings last week and on Tuesday, the board is considering leaving the county staffing levels unchanged but is weighing the impact of a three percent cost of living raise for county workers.
Tobar has not cut personnel and has included a three percent wage improvement, but it would take a projected 13.25 millage rate to fund the proposed budget, an increase from the current 11.89 millage rate.
According to Commission Chairman Billy Poitevint, the cost of a three percent wage hike for county employees would add an additional $137,686 to the county’s payroll expense. The county’s current annual payroll is $4,589,550, not including constitutional officers, and the new total if a three percent raise is budgeted would be $4,727,236, the commission chairman said Tuesday night.
If the board were to up the millage to 13.25, Administrator Tobar said that would be a 9.2 percent tax increase.
Tuesday night Commissioner LaFaye Copeland questioned why Tobar had left the payraise in the proposed budget.
“I thought we said to keep the personnel the same and no cuts, but to eliminate the raises,” Commissioner Copeland said.
Commissioner Charles Norton reminded his fellow commissioners that once the county set a tentative millage rate they could revise the budget and lower the millage rate, but they could not go above the tentative rate set.
“We need to make sure 13.25 mills will cover what we have to have to fund the budget. Then between now and later in the year when we formally adopt the budget we can make more changes to the budget,” Norton said.
Chairman Poitevint pointed out that last year the board gave full-time employees a 50 cents per hour raise and part-time personnel received a 25 cents per hour raise. “That’s not three percent,” he added.
Administrator Tobar expressed concern over adopting a budget that would require 99.34 percent of the projected revenues, but he also knew it would be difficult to increase taxes any higher than what is currently being considered.
In the budget plan under consideration the contingency fund has also been cut from $200,000 to $100,000, which is a concern for Commissioner Norton.
“All of the revenue figures, except for ad valorem taxes, are all just projections. I just hope our projections are right. I’ve seen it when we would have $500,000 to $600,000 in surplus revenue and then other years we didn’t meet the revenue projections,” Norton said.
During previous budget workshops the board had considered eliminating funding for a full-time position in the clerk of courts office and reducing a full-time position in both the probate and magistrate courts to part-time.
Last Thursday night, Grady County Clerk of Superior Court Debbie Kines met with the board to make the case for her current staff.
“I am fortunate to have a well trained staff. What we do in this office is mandated to be done timely and it is being done so. If I lose a position I can’t guarantee the work can be handled by only four employees,” Mrs. Kines said.
According to a survey made by Mrs. Kines of counties with populations ranging in size from 21,000 to 29,000 the average staffing level in the clerk of court office in the 34 counties surveyed was 5.79 employees. And of those 34 only three handled as many courts as her office does.
The commission takes up the budget talks again Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

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