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County readies budget
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Effingham County commissioners will go over their proposed fiscal year 2009 budget at their June 3 and 17 meetings and are expected to adopt the spending plan and a countywide millage rate June 17.

Commissioners went over the budget in a workshop Tuesday. At nearly $30.7 million, the FY09 budget is 5 percent more than the FY08 budget. But county staff said the county’s finances are in excellent shape and they have taken steps to avoid to continue dipping into the fund balance and reserves.

“In 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 we used fund balance money, the difference between revenues and expenses the prior years to actually fund the current budget. This past year, we used zero,” finance director Joanna Wright said. “We believe this is a result of the budget initiatives that have been placed over the last several years. The budget initiatives we have gone through are initiatives to balance the general fund budget using only current revenues.”

The county has $4.2 million in reserve operations, and the fund balance stands at $17 million. It was $8 million in 2004. The reserve operations fund has enough in it to carry the county for two months. The undesignated fund balance stood at $5 million and is now at almost $11 million.

In preparing the budget, county staff received more than $34 million in spending requests before submitting the draft of a $30.67 million budget to the commissioners.

“We’ve asked the hard questions to define whether an item is a request and if that request meets needs,” Wright said.

Commissioners also put in place a schedule to cut back their contributions to non-governmental agencies.  The county received nearly $1.5 million in requests for funding, with staff recommending more than half — about $759,000 — of that.

The county’s FY07 budget included $680,000 for agencies, including the library, the health department and Gateway andnon-governmental agencies.

Commissioners adopted a 10 percent cut for agency contributions this year, followed by a 30 percent reduction from this year’s total for the next three years.

“All these agencies have an impact on the county,” said Commissioner Verna Phillips. “But I think it should be more like a grant process. If they need something specifically, they can come and ask for a specific item and we could like at doing matching funds instead of carte blanche each one going up on their requests every year.”

Commissioner Hubert Sapp questioned how many of the agencies being funded were governmental entities.

“Why should we be funding non-profit organizations that are not governmental entities?” he said. “I understand that they are doing services in the community. I’m not saying there not doing a good job or a worthwhile job. But there’s ways to raise money other than to levy taxes.

“If they are doing a good job, the public will contribute. It should be the public’s option to contribute. I should not take tax dollars and force them to contribute.”