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County in 'good financial position'
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Effingham County commissioners are poised to adopt a budget that trims the countywide millage rate.

Commissioners held two public hearings on the fiscal year 2009 budget Tuesday and got their final look at the spending plan that calls for nearly $30.7 million in general fund expenditures and revenues.

“We are using no general fund fund balance to balance the budget,” county finance director Joanna Wright said.

In the past, the county had dipped into its fund balance, using amounts ranging from $1.5 million to $3 million to balance the budget, Wright said.

The county’s expenditures are up 5.4 percent from last year, but it is being matched by an approximate rise in revenue of $3.6 million split almost evenly between local option sales tax receipts and in property taxes on new growth in the digest.

“We are in a very, very strong financial position,” Wright told commissioners. “The staff believes that is because of the initiatives you have placed in the last three or four years. We have been able to grow into a good financial position, especially with the fund balance.”

The county’s general fund, nondesignated fund balance is at $11.1 million, up from $5.1 million in 2004.

“That is quite significant,” Wright said, adding that figure allows the county to have cash flow necessary for its projects and its budget.

The overall fund balance, including that for the special fund budget, has grown from $19.8 million to $30.7 million. Total cash on hand has gone from $7.7 million in 2004 to $38.8 million currently.

Once at $750,000, the county’s “rainy-day” fund is now $4.2 million, Wright said.

“We continue to watch expenditures and we have the ability to do larger projects we are into at this point,” she said.

County officials began working on the budget weeks ago and received $34 million in spending requests from departments and agencies. About $2.3 million was shifted into capital items and another $1.2 million was reduced or eliminated. County staff also added a $536,000 line item for a contingency fund and added money for the transit system in conjunction with the Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center.

Commissioners have adopted a plan to cut funding for certain non-governmental agencies by 10 percent this year and 30 percent each in the next three years.

Ruth Lee asked commissioners to reconsider their level of support for such agencies as Victim Witness.

“You know we always struggle to fund what we need to fund,” Lee said on behalf of Victim Witness. There are people who need it and need it right now. When a mother and her three children need a place to live in the middle of the night, Victim Witness is there to help.”

Lee said the practice of government assisting community organizations goes back to the era of President John Adams.

Because many agencies have set their budgets for the coming year, the notice of the county reducing its contribution can compound their financial difficulties.

“To reduce even 10 percent right now causes a problem,” she said. “It would be devastating to the community. The county, because of your good work, is in good financial shape. But how much is that going to cost you if you do away with these agencies? Some of them will disappear.”

Lee also wondered what message the commissioners send to community volunteers with their decision to eventually eliminate funding for some agencies.

“It says, ‘No, we don’t value your service to this community,’” she said.