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County to hold budget hearing tonight

POSTED: July 18, 2011 7:02 p.m.

Effingham County commissioners are scheduled to hold a public hearing on their fiscal year 2012 general fund and special fund budgets tonight.

Commissioners, who were presented a draft budget last week, also likely will keep the millage rate at its current 8.558.

The service delivery strategy resolution also has led to the creation of some new departments, such as senior citizens activity, and the merging of others, with a new inspections and zoning office. Those are part of special fund categories and not general fund operations.

The intricate service delivery agreements led the county to remove some of its operations from the general fund.

“We shifted some of these departments into special service districts,” County Administrator David Crawley said. “We can make sure we are funding those through fees for those services.”

The special fund, which covers sanitation, the fire department, water and sewer services, has a budget of $27.73 million. No general fund will be used to cover it, though $12.4 million in fund balance will be used to cover the special fund budget.

Of that fund balance, $10.13 million will come from special purpose local option sales tax fund balance. The lion’s share of that — about $9.33 million — will go to cover the budget for road work under SPLOST.

The proposed special funds budget calls for $11.84 million in road projects, with another $2.34 million in public buildings. Among the planned road projects for the SPLOST special fund category are $7.05 million for Old Augusta Road phases 2 and 3 and $3.51 million for resurfacing and capital improvements. Work on the county’s ash roads accounts for just over $1 million in the proposed capital expenditures for SPLOST.

In public buildings, the county projects spending $1.3 million on a Goshen Road fire station, along with $809,000 on construction and engineering for a new county jail. A new sanitation and public works office has $210,000 directed toward it in the projected budget.

Property tax receipts account for 51.77 percent of the county’s general fund revenue and sales tax, through the LOST, account for 22.17 percent. The county has taken in approximately $14 million in property taxes each year from 2005 to the current fiscal year. Sales tax revenues from gone from approximately $6 million to nearly $8 million and back down to the $6 million range from 2005-12.

The county was projecting to take in less than $6 million in sales tax last year but actually exceeded that amount. In all, the county is projecting to take in 3.9 percent less in revenue from FY11.

“Sales tax is up and down,” Crawley said. “Property taxes are our largest, most stable source of revenue. LOST is directly impacted by performance of the economy and as such, we have budgeted conservatively.”

Among its expenditures, 68 percent is directed toward personnel, with 13 percent going to purchased services and 12 percent to supplies. The county also has reduced its workforce from general fund operations by 25.8 full-time equivalent positions, Crawley said, and six positions were shifted to the special fund category. Thirty-two employees were eligible for early retirement, and 13 accepted. Staff reductions also came through restructuring various departments as part of the service delivery agreements and attrition.

Of its departments, public safety receives the lion’s share of the expenditures, getting 44 percent. That equates to approximately $11.755 million. The county’s spending per capita is at $518 per person, with about $225 of that going toward public safety.

Some departments have had their general fund budgets greatly reduced. The development budget is down almost $1.99 million from the previous year.

“We’re removing the majority of that department from the general fund,” Crawley said. “We’re reducing the amount of general fund dollars we’re spending on roads. We’re going to rely heavily on SPLOST for those capital improvement projects.”

As a result of the service delivery strategy settlement, public buildings’ portion of the general fund budget has been chopped by one-third, from just over $750,000 to $507,000. The county also is spending about $130,000 less on the prison. Department 51, which includes such things as Veterans Park, Victim Witness and the libraries, is seeing its bottom line rise nearly double, from $660,000 to more than $1.325 million. The increase is a result of the payments to the three cities for their recreation and roads, according to the service delivery agreements.

The county’s portion of the library budget, cut to $284,450 for last year, is going up to $464,450 for the pending fiscal year. The school board, Crawley said, is not funding the library and the county and the school board worked out a deal to absorb library funding in exchange for two new school resource officers.

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