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Commissioners OK budget, millage rates
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Effingham County commissioners approved their budget for the coming fiscal year and the millage they believe they need to support it, but one commissioner has had a change of heart in how the money is doled out.

Commissioners approved the budget by a 4-1 vote, with 4th District Commissioner Reggie Loper balking at the cuts being proposed for agencies that have been supported by county funds.

In their budget discussions, commissioners had agreed to cut funding for non-mandated agencies by 10 percent this year, with cuts of 30 percent in successive years. Those agencies include the Ferst Foundation, Rape Crisis Center and Victim Witness.

“I think the residents of Effingham County deserve those things,” Loper said. “If it wasn’t for the Effingham Museum and the Living History Site, those things would be gone forever. Our kids and grandkids would never experience those.

“Even though I agreed to the 10 percent (cut) in the beginning, I’ve changed my mind.”

The county’s budget for fiscal year 2009 is expected to be about $30.7 million. Included in it is a $500,000 contingency line item.

“We have a lot of unforeseen things this year,” Chairwoman Myra Lewis said. “I’m sure there are things in there each of us would want to do different. But we have to look at the big picture. We’re voting for a whole budget.”

Commissioners may use the contingency fund to shore up shortfalls in the elections budget should there be extra elections needed this year. There will be at least two — the July 15 primary and the Nov. 4 general election — and there could be runoffs in August and December.

They also may look at the contingency fund to take care of a request from the probate court for a fingerprinting machine to process requests for concealed weapons permits. When the departments submitted their original requests, there weren’t enough permits coming through to warrant a fingerprint machine at the probate office.

“Now she’s getting three a day,” interim county administrator David Crawley said.

Now, fingerprints are taken at the sheriff’s office, but the sheriff has indicated that it is becoming a burden for his staff, Crawley said. A fingerprinting machine for the probate court office would be $8,000, including the training. The fee for fingerprinting process is $8.

The original estimates for the fingerprinting machine came in at $14,000, county finance director Joanna Wright said.
Crawley said he didn’t know if the probate court could get a grant to help defray some or all of the cost of a fingerprinting machine.

“I’m glad we have that contingency, because we never know what we’re going to have to do,” Commissioner Verna Phillips said.

Commissioners have shaved nearly 1.5 mills off the millage rate over the last five years, but property values have escalated in that time.

“The values of the homes have increased,” Commissioner Hubert Sapp said. “By the values going up, the millage should come down.”

The total millage rate for the unincorporated portions of the county will be 29.729. Commissioners also approved fire fees for $35 per home and $50 per business for the year and a sanitation fee of $14 per month.