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Commissioners approve $26.81M budget
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Effingham County commissioners have approved a fiscal year 2015 budget that shaves about 1 percent of spending from the current financial plan.

In a 5-0 vote, commissioners approved a $26.81 million budget, which is about $23,000 less than the FY14 budget. The FY15 budget, which goes into effect July 1, includes an additional $50,000 for the county’s two branches of the Live Oak Public Library System. It also does not include cost-of-living or merit raises for employees.

“We have been battling an aging fleet, our infrastructure and a growing population to extend services to,” county finance director Joanna Wright said.

The county expects to collect approximately $14.79 million in property taxes but are going to hold the millage rate to its rollback rate. The anticipated millage rate was 8.427 and Wright said they will seek a county millage rate of 8.412.

The overall millage rate still awaits what the board of education number and also pinning down the millage rate for the hospital authority. The county millage rate, to include the school board, hospital authority and Industrial Development Authority, which has a constitutionally-set level at 2 mills, is expected to be adopted July 15.

The original budget came in at $27.33 million, about $497,000 above last year. A first draft revision took the budget at around $27.08 million.

“I still feel there is a lot of money in the budget that can be reduced,” said Commissioner Steve Mason. “The cost of running government is higher than it was two years ago. I am minimally happy we are going up from last year’s budget.”

Property taxes account for about 55 percent of the revenue and the local option sales tax makes up about 21 percent of county revenues. LOST revenue came in a little higher last year than projected, Wright said.

Of the county’s spending by department, about 46 percent is devoted to public safety, or around $12.2 million. Personnel, as compared to the total general fund budget, takes up 68 percent of the overall spending.

Wright said there is no increase in health care costs.

“In the past, we have been able to adjust the plan or negotiate that with our carrier,” she said.

Personnel expenditures are projected to increase $80,000 over the current budget but the purchases of good and services will be $109,000 less.

The budget includes a capital line item of $156,000 for new Effingham County Sheriff’s vehicles.

The biggest changes in the FY15 budget from the FY14 document are for the jail, which is getting boosted by $553,000, and the prison, which is getting cut by nearly $549,000. The jail staff is still in the restructuring process, Wright pointed out, and the prison inmate levels are being analyzed to see how much staff is required.

The sheriff’s office budget is increasing from $5.7 million to $6.1 million, a bump of more than $375,000, and the elections and voter registration office is getting an increase of more than $72,000.

“We try to account for a balanced budget. We try to account for service delivery,” Wright said.

The special funds budget, which includes special purpose local option sales tax-funded projects, water and sewer, wastewater, sanitation, E-911, senior citizens activities and inspections and zoning, will have a $63.9 million budget, a decrease of $113,000. The special tax district budget is growing from $4 million to nearly $4.4 million and the personnel budget for the fire department is expected to rise from $1.2 million to $1.33 million.