Friday, May 10, 2024

Oconee County Releases Fiscal Year 2025 General Fund Budget Showing Drop In Spending From Current Fiscal Year

***Total Budget $76.8 Million***

The Oconee County Fiscal Year 2025 Proposed Budget, released to the public on Tuesday night, shows increased General Fund spending of $1.9 million over the original budget for the current fiscal year, but a drop in spending of $3.7 million from the budget as amended.

The General Fund Budget is balanced, with revenue and expenditures at $40.7 million.

The total County Budget, which includes the General Fund as well as Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, and Water Resources Enterprise Fund spending, will increase $1.8 million over the original Fiscal Year 2024 Budget.

The overall budget also is balanced at $76.8 million and uses a Fund Balance transfer of $1.6 million for that purpose.

Finance Director Melissa Braswell, in presenting the budget to the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night, did not report a proposed millage rate underlying the budget.

The Commissioners will set a millage rate after the Tax Digest is released. The Commissioners have cut the millage rate in each of the last three years.

Following Braswell’s presentation, Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell held the first of the two public hearings on the budget. Three people spoke, two of whom are candidates for seats on the Commission in the May 21 primary elections.

During its regular meeting on Tuesday, the Commission approved a rezone for IMI Industrial Services Group to move its corporate offices to Gateway Technology and Business Park on the edge of Bogart.

It also approved spending $87,060 to cover a revenue shortfall in the Office of District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez because the Office missed a grant application deadline at the federal Office on Violence Against Women.

Budget Presentation, Revenue

Board of Commission Chair John Daniell postponed the beginning of the regular Commission meeting on Tuesday to allow Braswell to present the proposed Fiscal Year 2025 budget and then to conduct the first public hearing on that budget.

Braswell Before Commission 5/7/2024

Braswell said the proposed budget is based on a growth in property tax revenue of $1.1 million.

The Tax Digest won’t be released by Tax Commissioner Jennifer Riddle until July, so Braswell said she used current year collections to arrive at the budgeted amount of $19.5 million, up from the $18.4 million in the amended budget.

The budget assumes a very modest growth in Local Option Sales Tax revenue of $8,500.

“We have seen over the course of the year that our revenues are starting to flatten out on sales tax,” she said. “We don't see the increases that we've seen before, so we are being conservative and keeping that level.”

Revenue from the sales of buildings dropped from $3.5 million to $25,000, Braswell said, “as we don't currently have any planned buildings for sale like we did in the current fiscal year.”

The county sold properties it no longer needed with the move of the library to Wire Park and of county offices to the new Administrative Building.

Total projected revenue in the General Fund Budget falls from $43.3 million in the current fiscal year to $40.7 million.

General Fund Expenditures

Braswell said that Law Enforcement, the Jail, and E911 operations represent 29.0 percent of the proposed Fiscal Year Budget. That percentage is 25.8 in the current amended budget.

The dollar amount was $11.5 million last year and will be $11.8 million for the coming year.

Funding for Administration and Operations will drop from $10.3 million to $7.2 million, reflecting the transfer out of assets, Braswell said.

The budget for Public Works will drop from $5.8 million to $4.2 million, she said, because of “projects that are included in the current fiscal year that are not budgeted in the upcoming fiscal year.”

The budget for Parks and Recreation will increase from $3.9 million in the current amended budget to $4.2 million in the Fiscal Year 2025 beginning on July 1.

Braswell said the Parks and Recreation Department spending will include equipment for ground maintenance, picnic tables, and fitness center equipment.

Also included in the proposed Fiscal Year 2025 Budget is an increase in the base level of county pay charts of $2,500 as well as step increases for qualified employees, Braswell said.

The budget does not include any new positions, Braswell said.

Total Budget

The total Fiscal Year 2025 Budget includes $10.7 million in Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue and $6.5 million in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax income.

Braswell said the decision to use the $1.6 million in Fund Balance to balance the budget reflects the fact that “in previous years we’ve had revenue collected...that we would like to spend in Fiscal Year 2025.”

Spending for Public Works, with the use of T-SPLOST and SPLOST funds, is $14.9 million in the total budget for the county.

Water resources, which generates $14.5 million in revenue through sewer and water fees, is budgeted at spending $15.5 million with the addition of a little more than $1 million from the Fund Balance.

Water rates will increase 3.5 percent with the new budget, and sewer rates will increase 4.75 percent, Braswell said.

For a residential water user, the base charge will increase from $16.75 to $17.34 and the rate per 1,000 gallons per billing cycle up to 7,000 gallons will go from $5.78 to $5.98.

For a residential sewer user, the base charge will increase from $18.46 to $19.34, and the charge per 1,000 gallon will go from $6.64 to $6.96.

Braswell also said that T-SPLOST spending in the proposed Fiscal Year 2025 budget includes $6 million for paving.

Citizen Comment

Suzannah Heimel was the first citizen to come forward to make comment on the budget.

Heimel 5/7/2024

Heimel is running unopposed in the Democratic Primary for Post 1 on the Board of Commissioners. The Democratic Party is not supporting her. Incumbent Mark Thomas is unopposed in the May 21 Republican Primary.

Heimel asked “how are you getting their (the departmental) requested budget dollars?”

“Is that something that is discussed in a public meeting?” she continued.

Daniell told her that the Board had adopted a budget submittal plan that began with requests sent out to all of the departments and constitutional offices. The meeting on Tuesday was the public outcome of the process, he said.

Pam Hendrix, who is opposing Daniell for Commission Chair in the Republican Primary on May 21, said “it seems like we're not getting as much information as we used to back in 2022.”

She said that Daniell had only talked about the General Fund Budget in the State of the County address in April but the total budget “is much larger.”

“I also have questions about how you’re doing these amendments to the budget,” Hendrix said.

Daniell said “as far as the General Fund Budget, that's the one we talk about because that's what's related to property taxes” and “all the (budget) amendments are done in this room, and we tell you exactly what we're spending it on, why it has to be amended.”

Jeff Hood asked about the amount of money that the county is earning by housing prisoners from other counties in the county jail.

“I don’t know that off the top of my head but I’ll get that for you,” Daniell responded.

The second public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 6 p.m. on May 21 before the May agenda-setting meeting of the Commission.

Other Actions

During the Public Comment section of the regular meeting, Hood returned to the podium and asked the Commission to do what it could to get the Georgia Department of Transportation to reverse its preliminary plans to close Julian Drive at SR 316.

Hendrix 5/7/2024

The Commission voted unanimously to approve a new Conceptual Site Plan for IMI Industrial Services Group showing an eight-building complex that includes a corporation office, a fabrication building, a machine shop, a stainless steel shop, and buildings for future expansion.

IMI, currently located in the Watkinsville Industrial Park, will leave that location and move its entire operation to Gateway.

The Oconee County Industrial Development Authority (OCIDA), a county entity, currently owns the 52.1 acre property in the Gateway Park and is selling it to IMI. 

Sharon Thelen, who runs the Oconee 316 Keeping Neighbors Informed web site, spoke at the hearing, saying “I'm not sure if I'm speaking for or against, but I just wanted to encourage the Board of Commissioners to adopt the additional modifications recommended in the staff report” relating to buffers.

The Board adopted the rezone with those items.

Budget Amendment For District Attorney

The final item of the evening was a request from Board of Commissioners Chair Daniell to amend the current fiscal year budget to increase funding for the Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney Office by $87,060.

Daniell told the Board that the District Attorney Office, which serves both Oconee and Clarke counties, historically receives grants to cover additional staffing, and Oconee County provides the 25 percent matching portions for those grants.

Daniell 5/7/2024

Daniell said the District Attorney’s Office confirmed on April 24 that the office has “failed to apply for the Violence Against Women’s Act” grant for this calendar year. Daniell said that the Office of Deborah Gonzalez “missed the deadline” for the grant application.

“So funding will not be available for this calendar year and will not be available until 2026 if an application is submitted in Fall of 2025,” Daniell said.

Daniell said that last year District Attorney Gonzalez received a grant through the Violence Against Women’s Act for $140,000 for two investigators and $167,108 for one prosecutor.

The prosecutor position has not been filled this year, Daniell said, but Clarke County has paid the two investigators since January of this year expecting Oconee County to contribute money from the grant and its 25 percent match to cover the costs.

“If we don't cover that till June 30, then those employees will be out of a job immediately,” Daniell said, “but what the request and my recommendation is that we approve to continue reimbursing Athens-Clarke County for the two field positions from January 1 through June 30.”

Daniell asked for an amendment to the county budget to add $87,060 to the $163,000 approved earlier this year to cover the positions until the end of June.

“This will provide the DA office sufficient time to reach a staffing decision for what to do with those after June 30 and also fulfill our commitment,” he said.

After a four-minute discussion about the county’s commitment, the Board voted unanimously to provide the $87,060 requested by the District Attorney.


The video below is on the Oconee County YouTube Channel.

I attended the meeting and recorded video as well, but the audio is much better on the county video.

I used my video for the images in the post above.

The presentation by Braswell begins at 12:58 in the video.

Public comment on the budget begins at 37:30.

The regular meeting begins at 46:50 in the video.

Discussion of the zoning request is at 56:29 in the video.

Discussion of the District Attorney’s request is at 1:08:39 in the video.

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