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Hall County faces 2012 budget next week
County staff will use hearings to create a final draft of budget
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Hall County budget hearings

What: More than 70 departments and agencies present their budgets
When: 8:30 a.m. to noon Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday
Where: Courthouse Annex, 116 Spring St., Gainesville
More information: See the full schedule at http://hallcounty.org/depts/finance.asp

More than 70 Hall County departments will present their budgets next week in preparation for the 2012 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

County administrators hold budget hearings each year for the Hall County Board of Commissioners and residents to hear each department's needs.

The county's finance officials also will explain what they expect in terms of revenues.

"We're anticipating revenues and appropriations based on keeping services at the status quo, or the same level as last year," said Lisa Johnsa, Hall County's interim finance director. "That's due to the status of the tax digest, with changes in state legislation and a decline in property taxes."

Johnsa is working from budget estimates based on this year's numbers, and revenues for 2012 likely will drop several million from that. The county's fiscal 2011 budget was $90.4 million.

"We're already starting out at a lower point, and even if we keep services at a status quo with continued furloughs and a freeze on positions, there will still be a gap," she said.

Maintaining the status quo is already tough for agencies such as the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, which is expecting a drop in federal dollars.

Add on variable costs, such as the jump in gas prices, and center director Phillippa Lewis Moss is concerned about the year ahead.

"The county is requesting a zero increase in the budget, which is going to be a real challenge for us and all other agencies," Moss said. "We need to address the fact that fuel prices have increased, and if we can't, it will continue to put a bind on already difficult decisions."

Moss is worried about keeping up with service demands, especially for programs such as Meals on Wheels that help the community's most dependent residents.

"Even with no changes in our budget, grants and other funds aren't increasing with the demand, so programs will start to take a hit," she said. "There's no way we can continue to deliver these services without realizing the change in funding."

Hall County staff will use the hearings to create a final draft of the budget, which will be available to the public on May 24.

Finance officials also will hold two or three public hearings before commissioners vote on the budget in June.

For nonprofit groups, the hearings are a chance to show how residents benefit from activities scheduled throughout the year.

"From litter pickup each day to cleanups on the weekends, recycling events and the rain barrel and compost sale, we can show how we're spending money wisely and using it frugally," said Cindy Reed, executive director of Keep Hall Beautiful.

"It's good to show the value for the money the county gives us, and we make the most with what we have."

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