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County passes $92.7 million budget
Two commissioners question revenue projections
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Hall County commissioners approved the county’s $92.7 million budget Thursday, but not without opposition.

While some commissioners praised county department heads for reducing their budgets and enduring furloughs to make ends meet this year, commissioners Ashley Bell and Steve Gailey said they were skeptical of the revenue projections on which the county’s 2010 spending plan depends.

The two commissioners voted against the proposed budget, which is $5 million smaller than last year’s and does not include a property tax increase for county residents, according to the county’s Finance Director Michaela Thompson.

Bell commended Thompson for the "thoughtful process" of cutting county spending, but said he felt projections for local option sales tax revenues were too optimistic.

"One point five million estimated revenue in LOST is a little high," Bell said.

Gailey also expressed concern about expected revenues in the budget. The District 3 commissioner said the county should not expect an increase in the property tax digest, and perhaps should brace for the digest to shrink.

"I don’t see a big growth in the tax digest," Gailey said.

But other county commissioners supported the budget. Commissioner Billy Powell said the county could monitor revenues and adjust spending on a monthly basis in 2010 as it has done this year.

"I’m going to support this budget," Powell said. "I know how much time and effort was put into the revenue projections."

Earlier in the budget process, County Administrator Charley Nix defended the county’s revenue projections, saying fiscal year 2010 should not be as bad as fiscal year 2009 has been.

"I know projecting the revenues is risky business, but most economists feel like we’ve bottomed out," Nix said. "I think we’re in good shape with the decisions we’ve made."

Despite the division on the budget, the commission voted unanimously in favor of the county’s proposed millage rate, which is no different than the previous year’s.

Because of low sales tax collection and other effects of the economy, 28 county jobs were eliminated from the budget, which will outline the county’s spending from July 1 to June 30, 2010. The cuts will save the county $1.1 million.

Over the last year, the county has been under a hiring freeze, which has saved $1.3 million on 29 positions. They also eliminated merit increases worth an additional $1 million.

Another cost-saving measure, the mandatory one day per month furlough, will continue in 2010 at a savings of $2.3 million.

Staff writer Melissa Weinman
contributed to this story.