Sunday, April 11, 2010

Public Phase of Oconee County 2011 Budget Process Begins

Parks and Rec in Lead Position

The budgeting process for the county for Fiscal Year 2011 moves into its public phase on Monday with the first of three scheduled meetings of department heads, elected officials and judicial officers with the members of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners.

The Monday meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. in the commission chamber at the courthouse with representatives of the Parks and Recreation Department, who will have 45 minutes to explain their budget request for the year beginning on July 1.

Also on Monday, the commissioners will hear from the Fire Department, the coroner and Animal Control. The meeting is scheduled to end about 8:30 p.m.

On Tuesday, the session starts at 9 a.m. with the Human Resources Department of the county and continues until the final session at 4:30 p.m. During the day the Board will hear from representatives of the Magistrate Court, Superior Court and Juvenile Court, the district attorney, planning, code enforcement, the library and others.

The final session starts at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday with the Utility Department, followed by the Public Works Department and the sheriff’s office. It ends with the Finance Department presentation starting at 7:45 p.m.

The budgeting process began on Jan. 26 when Finance Director Jeff Benko provided the Fiscal Year 2011 budget submittal plan to the BOC and is scheduled to end on June 1 with adoption of the budget by the Board at its regular meeting.

The Board will hold the first public hearing on the budget before its agenda-setting meeting on May 25 and the second public hearing before adoption of the budget on June 1. The first public hearing is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m., while the second will be part of the regular meeting, which starts at 7 p.m.

Wayne Provost, director of Strategic and Long-Range Planning for the county, gave an indication of how difficult the budgeting process is likely to be at a meeting with citizens on March 25 to discuss citizen efforts to protect Elder Mill and the area around Elder Mill Bridge.

He said that “we think” that property values in the county have gone down 3 to 5 percent, personal property values are down 13 to 14 percent, and the 1-cent-on-a-dollar sales tax is producing 7 to 10 percent less than a year earlier.

These are the sources of revenue for the county’s general fund, which covers 57 percent of its spending.

Provost said the projection is that the county will need to cut $1 to $1.5 million from the county’s roughly $35 million budget for next fiscal year. The county also can draw down its surplus, which has been running at about $10 million, and increase taxes, but the BOC has been reluctant to do either.

The biggest categories of spending from the General Fund are for public safety and judicial operations, making up 41 percent of the total. Public Works accounted for 12 percent of last year’s General Fund budget and Parks and Recreation received 11 percent.

The Utility Department has its budget outside the General Fund since much of its operation is funded by its own revenue. The budget for the Utility Department in 2010 was 18 percent of all expenditures, compared with the 57 percent figure for the General Fund.

County officials frequently point out that only 27 percent of property taxes citizens in the county pay are under the control of the Board of Commissioners, and that 72 percent goes to the Board of Education and 1 percent goes to the state.

The Board of Education also is in the budget process and is struggling with decreased state revenue as well as the drop in the local tax base and in sales tax revenue.

The range of services covered by the BOC-controlled budget is quite broad--from roads to sewers and water to tax collection itself. The BOE budget focuses exclusively on education.

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