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Hall County prepares for budget talks
Proposed fiscal 2011 budget set at $90.3 million, slightly less than last years budget
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Public hearings

What: Comment on fiscal 2011 budget issues
When: 8 a.m. to noon Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and April 20
Where: Courthouse Annex, 116 Springs St. SE, Gainesville

Other business

The Hall County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to allow short-term rentals for homes zoned for vacation cottage.

Previously, leases of fewer than 30 days were prohibited.

Property owners who wish to rent their homes to tourists on a short-term basis now will be treated as hoteliers. They may apply for a business license and comply with Hall County’s environmental health regulations.

The owners would be responsible for collecting the hotel/motel tax, 5 percent of the rent, to send to the county’s business license office.

Tourism officials back the move because vacation rentals would broaden the county’s options for tourists and attract more overnight visitors, who could pour money into the local economy.

Hall County Administrator Charley Nix told commissioners Thursday afternoon that there is a bumpy road ahead as the county prepares for budget hearings for fiscal year 2011.

Nix said he hoped to get fresh input from the Hall County Board of Commissioners and others on how to cut costs throughout the budgeting process.

The proposed budget is $90.3 million for fiscal 2011, which starts July 1. The approved 2010 budget was $92.7 million.

"This is basically no change from our 2010 budget," Nix said. "The decline in consumer spending has obviously been the biggest problem for us to deal with."

Nix said he worries that if tax revenues continue to decline, further cuts will be difficult.

"We’ve reached a point I don’t think we can go much deeper," Nix said. "We’re at a place where we have to join hands and think of what our other options are.

"I think I’ve pretty much looked under every rock myself."

In fiscal 2010, Hall County continued money-saving efforts started in 2009, including monthly unpaid furlough days, a hiring freeze and a halt to all capital purchases.

In 2010, the county stopped contributing to employee retirement accounts and eliminated merit and cost-of-living salary increases.

"I feel pretty certain the (sales tax) revenues are going to come back, but they may not come back quickly enough," Nix said. "If they can at least maintain, I’ll feel confident with that $90.3 million."

Chairman Tom Oliver said he trusted the budget projections based on the accuracy of 2010 estimates.

"I do feel very comfortable with how we’ve handled everything," Oliver said. "What (staff) presented to us was how it was. There were no surprise, and that’s a credit to our staff."

Nix said the county does face new challenges in 2011.

After two years without capital purchases, county equipment and vehicles are in need of replacement and repair and harsh winter conditions have left many roads in need of repairs.

"I think we are prepared to tighten our belts again to meet our projected budget without a tax increase," Commissioner Billy Powell said.

The county has scheduled four hearings next week to educate the public on budget issues and gather public comment.

"We’ve been through two years of pretty tough stuff," Nix said. "I’m very proud of the staff, department heads and elected officials."

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