Here’s a few more places where the county could cut expenses

Published 8:15 am Friday, July 12, 2013

It appears the Decatur County Board of Commissioners, although not unanimously, have settled on a 1.5-mill property tax increase for the upcoming year. The board was split when it came to how much of a tax increase was warranted and needed.

That conclusion was reached in the latest of a long line of budget workshops held by the county over the last several months.

Commissioners Dennis Brinson and Frank Loeffler both wanted to raise taxes by 3 mills, while Russell Smith, Jan Godwin, and Butch Mosely thought a 1.5-mill increase was more appropriate. Commissioner Oliver Sellers said he would not support an increase of any amount.

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County Administrator Gary Breedlove recommended a 3.25-mill increase to the county’s general fund. Of that, 3 mills could come from an increase in property taxes and the other quarter mill would be shifted from the Industrial Development Authority to the county’s general fund. Breedlove made this recommendation despite each commissioner, during an earlier workshop, voicing no support for shifting the IDA funding.

After attending most of the workshops, the root problem, in my view, with the county’s finances boil down to one thing. Unwise, poor decision making by the commission with SPLOST funds has put the county this position — a position in which some commissioners would recommend increasing property taxes by one-third, from 9.66 to 12.66 mills.

The blame for the county’s poor financial condition has been laid at the feet of a decrease in sales tax generated revenues, Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) and Local Option Sales Tax (LOST). Each of those taxes is one-cent on sales inside Decatur County.

While those revenues have in fact decreased from the prior year, they have not decreased at a level that would cause this level of distress.

SPLOST receipts dropped $226,000 from fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2013 and LOST receipts decreased $251,000 from the prior year. The county, during many public meetings and workshops, has been claiming much larger losses from those revenue streams. Those variances being presented were from manmade projected numbers rather than actual collections.

In my view, until the county uncovers every rock and looks around every corner to operate within current levels of funding, the property owners in Decatur County should not shoulder the consequences of the bad decisions made by the commission.

The general fund and the millage rate should not be affected by decreases in SPLOST funding. But, because the county has had to dip into the general fund to satisfy SPLOST debt, we find ourselves in the position of having to pay more in property taxes.

In my mind, I am not confident the county has explored every possible way to “live within our means.”

Here are some areas of potential savings; the county has discussed some of these suggestions, but others have not been brought up:

• Seriously analyze the privatization of EMS. A cursory look has been taken at this area, but I am not confident that a serious, group-wide study has been done in area that could potentially save the county upwards of a quarter-million dollars.

• Return to the table to negotiate with the city of Bainbridge about housing city inmates once again. I have been told that the invitation has been made by the city, but the calls were not returned. This could mean an additional $150,000 in revenue for the county.

• While I am not advocating county employees shouldering the load for the financial crisis, the county should consider what savings could be realized by increasing county employees’ insurance premiums. Currently, for single coverage the county pays $504 monthly in premiums, while the employee pays $20 monthly. An increase to $40 monthly, or an additional $5 a week, would save the county roughly $75,000.

• Currently, county employees have 11 holidays off per year, plus their birthday. That’s one paid holiday per month. Those days are in addition to comp time. In comparison, the city of Bainbridge has nine paid holidays. How much would the county save by reducing those holidays to more realistic numbers? I would expect it would be significant.

• The county should seriously consider privatizing the Planning Department. The city of Bainbridge utilizes a private company to perform all inspections and permitting, at a cost of roughly $88,000 per year. The county spent $146,000 for the same functions last year. When you consider the activity volume inside the city limits compared to the county, there is no reason why Decatur County could not take the same approach and same about $60,000 annually.

While this list is by no means exhaustive, it is a good start to adjusting expenses to revenues, rather than increasing revenues to meet expenses. While everyone realizes that taxes are necessary for the government to provide needed services to citizens, those taxes shouldn’t increase because of poor decision making by our elected officials.