County adopts new budget

Published 7:12 pm Tuesday, June 29, 2010

At a special called meeting held Tuesday morning, Decatur County Commissioners approved a $24,267,720 budget to operate county government from July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2011.

Commissioners’ unanimous adoption of the proposed budget was expected, as county officials had previously described a smoother budget development than in previous years. At the same time, drafting of the county’s new budget still involved a fair amount of moving money around to make ends meet, those involved said.

This August, when local governments will set their millage rates for the next year, county commissioners will almost certainly keep their current millage rate of 8.56, according to County Financial Director Carl Rowland. The millage rate is a variable that determines the amount of tax assessed on a property’s value and in turn, how much local governments will collect.

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While the City of Bainbridge’s budget is largely tied to revenue from local sales tax receipts, the county government gets approximately $6.8 million—almost 40 percent of its general fund revenue—from property tax.

According to Rowland, the Georgia Legislature froze any increases in the values of existing property because of inflationary reasons. That action by itself would result in Decatur County getting about $300,000 less in property tax collection than it would have otherwise, Rowland said. However, collection of property tax will remain about the same as last year because County Tax Commissioner Don Belcher plans to hold two tax lien sales within the next 12 months—one this fall, another next summer, Rowland said.

At the same time, increased costs for indigent defense and animal control will each account for $40,000 more in expenses.

So to keep a balanced budget, as they are required to do by state law, county commissioners are counting on increased revenues in other areas next year, said Earl Perry, chairman of the Board of Commissioners.

Money from court fines and fees is expected to increase by about $185,000 and county officials are researching other new revenue sources utilizing existing assets, Perry said. The county expects to get about $130,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse expenses associated with local flooding in April 2009.

In the new budget, commissioners will also take $1.9 million in anticipated net revenue from its Solid Waste Facility and put it toward the Emergency Medical Service, operation of the county’s airport and bolstering of the county’s general fund, the money it can use for day-to-day operation of government. About $190,000 in cash will be carried over from the previous fiscal year to help fund the new budget, Rowland said.

County officials are optimistic that the economic situation is improving. Rowland cited increasing sales tax receipts, while Perry said he believes the county is in better financial shape than it has been in several years.

“We’re getting better at projecting our revenue and expenses,” Perry said. “The county’s department heads, elected officials and officers have been working together more closely.”