2008-12-11 / Front Page

County Taxes Remain Steady

Final budget to be adopted Dec. 30
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz STAFF WRITER

With word finally being passed down from Washington, D.C., confirming what many have already known about the country's economic status and ongoing recession, the Fulton County commissioners have tentatively opted to hold the line on taxes for 2009 in announcing the approval of their proposed budget.

In approving the 2009 proposed county budget last Thursday, commissioners Bonnie Mellott Keefer, Daniel Swain Jr. and David Hoover II allowed real estate taxes to remain at the current rate of 10 mills, while occupation taxes will also stay at a level of 20 mills. Both sets of taxes have been unchanged since 2006.

"In preparing the 2009 budget, the county faced challenges with the budget process with the state underfunding programs, the elimination or prior reimbursements that the county received, higher energy costs and additional debt service needed for building improvements," the commissioners stated in a prepared statement released by the office of county business manager Tim Stanton. "As of December 1, the state is still in the process of cutting funding to counties across the state. As a result, it is possible that the preliminary budget will need additional adjustments ... ."

Specifically, funding sources are anticipated to decrease by 11 percent in comparison to funding revenue this year. The most significant drop proposed by the commissioners will include their decision of not obtaining an annual tax anticipation note.

"In 2008 a loan was obtained in the amount of $590,000, which was paid back to the bank when real estate taxes were received. It is currently believed that the county will have adequate cash in 2009 without acquiring a loan, which will save the county the cost of interest expense," it was noted in the budget summary.

Revenue in 2009 has been broken down to 59 percent, taxes; 24 percent, federal and state operating grants; 6 percent, charge for services; 5 percent, prior year surplus; 3 percent other reimbursements; 2 percent, fines; and 1 percent interest. In comparison, expenditures for the next year are listed at 56 percent, salaries and benefits; 25 percent professional services; 4 percent, utilities; 4 percent, subsidies; 3 percent, other; 3 percent, debt service; 2 percent, supplies, 1 percent, insurance; 1 percent, travel and education; and 1 percent, repair.

"When a recession occurs the demand for services goes up and the ability to pay for it goes down. This creates a problematic budgeting process that trickles down from the federal to the state, and then the state to the county. This process creates revenue shortfalls and higher expenditures. In the case of the Fulton County budget, the expenditures will exceed the revenues by $297,557," the commissioners and Stanton summarized in their release to the "News" that shows total revenue in 2009 at $5,946,125 and expenditures at $6,243,682.

"The 2009 budget is very lean, and the county is fortunate to currently have a healthy balance sheet that can absorb the 2009 revenue shortfall. Two-hundred thousand of the funding shortage is a direct result of the collapse of the stock market and the resulting funding need for the retirement plan," they added.

Several line items under the category of expenditures have decreased, though, including a drop of general government spending by 5 percent over 2008's totals due to staff restructuring and retirements. In addition, public safety expenditures decreased 10 percent in connection with restructuring the payment of 911 services. Furthermore, in connection with a successful spraying of gypsy moths through the county's residential spray program, a notable decrease of 29 percent has also been recorded under conservation expenses. Expenditure categories seeing increases, however, are judicial expenditures (6 percent) and human services (4 percent).

In commenting further on the financial-related action taken by the Board of Commissioners on December 4, Commissioner Swain stated, "At this point the budget is a proposed budget. Because of how bad things are in the economy right now the budget could still change, and I would prefer to wait until after the final budget is approved at the end of December before making any further comments," he concluded.

Commissioner Keefer added, "We have approved a proposed budget, but it is still a work in progress."

The budget will remain available for public inspection at the commissioners' office during regular business hours. Final adoption of the budget has been set for Tuesday, December 30, at 10 a.m.

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