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Commissioners take a look at slightly bigger budget
No property tax hike envisioned
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Effingham County commissioners are poring over a draft fiscal year 2015 budget that is an increase over their current revenue and spending plan.

The $27.1 million budget is a nearly 1 percent hike over the current budget, which ends June 30, and county finance director Joanna Wright said the county does not expect to collect more property tax revenue. County staff originally drafted a $27.3 million budget before cutting $246,000 out of proposal. The overall increase under consideration is $251,000 from the FY14 budget.

“There were no significant changes in the property tax digest on revenue,” Wright said.

The county is projecting to take in $14.79 million in property tax revenue, an increase from last year’s $14.29 million in property tax revenue. The millage rate, however, is expected to decline to 8.427.

Under the proposed budget, the county is boosting the library’s funding by $15,000. The library’s funding has been at $446,000 for the last two fiscal years, and the requested amount was nearly $525,000.

The budget also includes a 1 percent pay hike for constitutional officers, which is dictated by the state. But there are no merit raises or cost-of-living allowance increases for county employees.

The goals in assembling the budget, Wright said, were to create a fiscally responsible and balanced plan that accounted for the service delivery agreements. The idea also was to examine opportunities for more efficiencies and maintain the current levels of service.

The budget does include money for contingencies and there is a line item for non-designated capital funds, which will be allocated by the commissioners as needed. The revised draft budget has added $100,000 to the general government category.

“For the first time in recent years, we have added capital in our current budget.” Wright said. “Usually we allowed that to go into fund balance and then appropriated capital expenditures out of that.”

The county’s property tax accounts for nearly 55 percent of its general fund revenue. The local option sales tax is predicted to bring in $5.7 million, a 2 percent bump from the current fiscal year. The county’s functional revenues — money generated through county operations and from fines and fees — are pegged to jump more than 5.4 percent, to nearly $6.37 million.

Functional revenues make up about 22 percent of the county’s income, and LOST will be about 21 percent. The county and the cities renegotiated their split of LOST last year, and the county reduced its share of LOST revenues to 74.41 percent.

“Our LOST has increased just a bit,” Wright said.

Most of the increases in personnel are in public safety and for elections workers, Wright pointed out. The county staff is recommending adding another staff person to EMS. The addition of another person who could run calls may alleviate the need for an additional ambulance.

The budget also includes additional personnel for the fire department, including an arson investigation officer to be split with the sheriff’s office, and additional 911 communications officers.

In other personnel spending, the prison will get $504,000 less than last year but the jail will get an additional $604,000. Information technology will get about $62,000 less than last year, and the summer food budget is getting cut from $12,588 to less than $200 under the proposed budget.

Of its expenditures, 64 percent is directed toward personnel, while 14 percent goes to purchases and 12 percent to supplies. By area of government, 45 percent of the budget is dedicated to public safety. General government gets 14 percent of the county’s general fund revenue, while health and welfare accounts for 19 percent and the courts get 11 percent.

Other expenditures suggested in the budget are a transfer of $143,000 to 911 and a $347,000 transfer for the landfill.

By departments, the sheriff’s office will gain $395,000, with a large chunk dedicated to new patrol cars. Wright indicated the county’s overall vehicle fleet is aging, and they are looking at pooling cars and pooling cars per building.

The budget has $193,500 in capital for the sheriff’s office, and $75,000 was retained in roads and drainage to take care of small projects, Wright added.

“We received major requests for capital,” she said.

The general fund does not include money for either a July 4th fireworks show or what has been the Olde Effingham Days event. The city of Springfield, which has sponsored the annual fireworks show, did not stage one last year and is not expected to have a fireworks show this year.

The county did not contribute to Olde Effingham Days last year, nor did it provide financial support for this year’s Historic Effingham Festival. Commissioner Vera Jones said last year the lack of a contract between the county and the organizers made the county’s funding illegal.

County community relations director Adam Kobek said no request for the festival’s funding was made this year.

“We need to do something with it,” Commissioner Steve Mason said. “There was still quite a bit of a turnout for it, and a lot of folks wondered why we didn’t participate.”

Among the county’s 18 special funds and four enterprise funds, which are not supported through property tax and other general fund revenue sources, the overall budget is $64.02 million, a cut of about $8,000 from the FY14 budget. Those funds include special purpose local option sales tax distributions, impact fees and fees generated from the water and sewer system. It also includes the special tax district, which gets revenues from insurance proceeds, payments in lieu of taxes and franchise fees.

Millage rates
A look at the 10-year history of county-assessed millage rates for the unincorporated portions of Effingham County:
2005 - 10.127
2006 - 9.943
2007 - 9.756
2008 - 8.913
2009 - 8.854
2010 - 8.530
2011 - 8.558
2012 - 8.329
2013 - 8.558
2014 - 8.558
2015 (proposed) - 8.427