Will a list of variables vex the county’s 2013 budget? During the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners’ budget workshop Tuesday, Commission Chairman JC Sanford alluded to a list of “unknowns” that have yet to be included in the budget. When FYN asked about the items on the list, Sanford said they were not ready for public viewing, adding that some dealt with litigation issues. Although, Sanford did not give details about these issues, the county is facing a recent settlement from the Lois Spence case, a years-long property assessment case that ended in the tax assessors’ office paying Spence’s attorney’s fees of $86,000. The county will also have to pay its own attorney’s fees. These fees, however, have not yet been disclosed.
This week’s workshop comes on the heels of a series of workshops, when several departments requested increases for next year. Previously, Sanford said if the county granted all requests for increases the county would be $700,000 over budget and would exhaust its contingency fund.
Early in Tuesday’s workshop, Sanford presented next year’s budget options, one of which was granting all requests and then raising taxes next year to cover the expenditures. Post Two Commissioner Danny Hall said he’d rather the county raise revenue than taxes, affirming his opposition to a tax hike next year. Sanford agreed and rather recommended cutting spending to match the county’s income or revenues. The latter of which, he said, was one of the county’s biggest problems for the upcoming year.
Based on recent projections, the county is expected to receive approximately $263,000 less in revenue for 2013 than received in 2012. Sanford, however, commented the county would get a slight surge in revenue from the recently negotiated Local Option Sales Tax (L.O.S.T). But, other signs of financial challenges continue to loom.
Six out of the 31 county departments were over budget as of October, Commissioner Hall noted. The public defender’s office was one of these departments.
“Their budget for this year was $172,000,”
, “They’re already at $153,000 (as of September), which is 89 percent of their budget when it should’ve been 75 percent.”
Sanford also explained the public defender’s budget was changed last year, when Gilmer, Pickens and Fannin Counties decided to move some of the office’s employees from state to county benefits. Sanford, though, said these budgetary estimates “didn’t work out so well.” As such, he announced the public defender’s office will receive approximately a $43,000 increase for 2013.
Also, the Sheriff’s office requested 10 new police vehicles, although the board agreed only to purchase six. Sanford said he didn’t know where, but he would find money to purchase the cars.
In the end, the board denied most increase requests. It denied the $15,000 increase to the clerk of court’s office; the increase for the animal shelter; the increase in detention center; decreased the courthouse maintenance budget, and cut the tax assessors’ budget to $555,000.
Although it honored the superior court’s request, the amount was not as much as Judge Brenda Weaver had initially requested, Sanford said. The increase, though, shows the county’s support for the alternative sentencing programs, such as drug court, mental health court and veterans’ court. Similarly, the county will also start paying back-payments to Pickens County, the host county, for the Drug Task Force program, a responsibility previously neglected.
At the close of the workshop, FYN asked Sanford if the board’s decisions would result in a balanced budget. Sanford said it was too early to tell, saying the budget was an estimate because the variables were still pending.
The board is expected to vote on the budget in December.