Oconee County Finance Director Wes Geddings last week presented the Board of Commissioners with a $53.3 million Proposed Fiscal Year 2021 Budget that anticipates a 10.4 percent drop in sales tax revenue but includes no increase in the property tax rate.
The budget includes no new positions and a modification of health care options that holds the increase of costs to 5 percent, Geddings told the Board at the first hearing on the proposed Fiscal Year 2021 Budget.
Geddings’ proposed budget, compared with the approved budget for the current fiscal year, shows a 0.5 percent increase in revenues to the county, carried by a projected growth in property tax revenue of 1.6 percent.
Some of the growth in property tax revenue is the result of conversion of property to a different use, and some of it results simply from increased market value.
The increased market value, an inflationary increase, represents a tax increase for those whose property value goes up unless the Board of Commissioners overrules Gedding’s recommendation and rolls back the property millage rate accordingly.
The budget proposes increases in residential, commercial and industrial water and sewer rates yet anticipates a decrease in revenue from the county’s Water Resources Department of 1.4 percent.
“We’ve taken a conservative approach due to the uncertainty of the current environment that we’re operating in,” Geddings said in presenting the proposed budget to the commissioners on Tuesday night.
“Healthcare costs continue to rise,” Geddings said. “The budget has streamlined the cost of healthcare and offers more choices and more options for employees.”
The result was a “5 percent net increase in healthcare costs overall from FY 20, our current year, to FY 21,” Geddings continued.
County Administrator Justin Kirouac told the Board that the budget was prepared with concern about the impact of COVID-19 on county revenue.
“We do think it will come back, and it won’t flat line like it was say in 2008,” he said.
“We have to anticipate the possibility that we have the L-shaped revenue and they don’t come back,” he added, “so there’s levers in there that we can pull without detrimenting core services that will sustain us through the fiscal year going forward,” he added.
Sales Tax Projections
The budget presented by Geddings showed the 10.4 percent decline in revenue from the county’s Local Option Sales Tax but only a 4.2 percent decline in revenue from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
While the taxes differ somewhat in what they cover, they usually track similarly.
The March 2020 collection for LOST was 9.0 percent below what it was in March of 2019, while the SPLOST distribution for March of 2020 was down 9.8 percent from March of 2019.
Gov. Brian Kemp didn’t issue his shelter-in-place order until early April, and April’s distributions, due at the end of this month, will be more telling that the March figures about impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the local economy.
The budget, Geddings said, shows increases in expenditures only in three areas: public safety, public works and elections.
The public safety increase is for mobile device upgrades at the Sheriff’s Office, while the public works increase is for roadside mowing and solid waste, Geddings said.
“There was a slew of state mandated initiatives that we were required to implement” for the roll-out of the new electronic voting system, Geddings said.
Geddings said that revenue, led by property tax, will be up $740,854, allowing for a balanced budget.
The millage rate will remain constant, Geddings said.
At present, that rate is 6.686 for the unincorporated parts of the county and 7.626 in the county’s four incorporated areas.
The Fee Scheduled submitted by Geddings lists an increase in the base water rate from $15.33 for 1,000 gallons of use to $15.48.
The rate per 1,000 gallons of use goes from $5.29 to $5.34 up to 7,000 gallons per month and from $7.23 to $7.30 per 1,000 from 7,001 to 14,000 gallons per month.
The base residential sewer rate increases from $15.41 to $16.10.
Commercial and industrial rates for both water and sewer are proposed to increase as well.
Last year, the base residential water rate remained the same as in the FY 2019 budget, and the new water rate, per 1,000 gallons, for up to 7,000 gallons increased to $5.29 per gallon, up from $5.23.
Sewer rates remain unchanged last year.
The Fee Schedule Geddings presented to the Board included adjustments for programs of the county’s Parks and Recreation Department, including a $10 increase for Youth Sports programs that use the facilities of Oconee County Schools.
The Board of Education, at its last meeting, voted to begin charging the county for use of school sports facilities.
Geddings told the Board that the proposed budget he offered did not require any use of its Fund Balance, which is the county’s reserves.
Geddings estimated the General Fund will be at $11.225,617 on June 30, the end of the current fiscal year. That figure will represent a 2.5 percent increase over the previous year, he said.
Geddings said he will come back to the Board “in the next few weeks” to “assign” some of that fund balance and listed nine projects with expenditures totaling $2.8 million that he would like to have funded in the upcoming fiscal year
After funding for those projects is removed, the fund balance would remain at $8,460,184, which he said was a sufficient balance for the county.
Included on the project list Geddings presented to the Board is $561,377 for the Malcom Bridge Road roundabout at the staff and bus entrance to Malcom Bridge Middle School and $375,000 for the county’s contribution to the widening of Experiment Station Road from Butler’s Crossing to the U.S. 441 Bypass of Watkinsville.
Another $195,563 is for renovation of the Animal Services Building, 1171 Branch Road, in the far south of the county.
Another $250,000 is set aside for each of two road improvements, possibly roundabouts, at the intersections of Rays Church Road and Hog Mountain Road and Snows Mill Road and Hog Mountain Road.
Board of Commissioner Chair John Daniell said the state has given the county $300,000 toward the cost of the Mars Hill Road roundabout, so the actual cost to the county will be $261,377 rather than the $561,377 shown in Geddings’ slide.
Regarding the Snows Mill Road and Rays Church Road intersections, Daniells said “We’re working with the state of Georgia to get these tough intersections fixed.”
The county also is working with the Georgia Department of Transportation on the Union Church Road intersection with Hog Mountain Road, Daniell said, “to get a light or some kind of improvement there.”
Daniell said that since Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax collection is down, the money available for improvements to the Animal Services facility is less than is needed “to complete all the tasks that are necessary to get Animal Services up to the correct condition.”
The transfer of the $195,563 from the Fund Balance will allow the county reach that goal, he said.
The Budget Hearing preceded the May 19 Agenda Setting meeting of the Board of Commissioners.
The next hearing on the Budget is scheduled for June 2, when the Board of Commissioners is expected to adopt it.
The May 19 meeting was held at the Commission Chamber at the Courthouse in Watkinsville, but attendance at the meeting was restricted. The meeting was live-streamed.
Sarah Bell was invited to attend the meeting, and she recorded the video below.
The entire meeting was dedicated to the budget presentation.