Hall County government presented a proposed $86.4 million spending plan for fiscal year 2013 at Tuesday’s budget open house.
The drafted budget, which is still open for public comment and tweaking, is a slight decrease from the current year’s budget of $86.8 million.
The presentation at the Georgia Mountains Center, which was open to the public and was attended by county department directors, will kick off what many hope to be a budget process with a lot less drama than last year’s.
The fiscal year 2012 budget process last summer, which included an $11.5 million budget gap, received criticism for not allowing the public enough time see the proposal and offer input on cuts.
This year, the budget proposal is coming earlier.
“Certainly we want to provide ample opportunity for questions,” County Administrator Randy Knighton said at the hearing. “This open house is one piece of that process.”
The proposed budget, Knighton said, takes into account an estimated “$4.5 million deficit situation” in the general fund.
Vickie Neikirk, Hall’s finance director, said this year’s budget restraints included a $2.8 million estimated decrease in the tax digest and increases in insurance and fuel costs. This proposal uses $1.1 million from the fund balance.
It also keeps in place the current furlough policy, which has county employees off one day a month without pay, and will not reinstate the county’s retirement contribution for employees.
“We have made the necessary reductions coupled with the expectation for increases in certain expenditures to close that gap,” Knighton said.
“I think right now, we are on very solid footing in terms of the ultimate adoption going forward of a fiscal year (2013) budget.”
About a dozen Hall County residents who didn’t fall into the category of government official or political candidate attended the hearing.
One of them was Hall resident Doug Aiken, who said he was generally pleased with what he saw in a budget that offered cuts, but nothing that seems drastic.
“I think it’s realistic and possible,” Aiken said. “It’s going to be tough, but life is not easy.”
Flowery Branch resident Vicki Bentley said she came “just to get an idea” of what the budget was looking like this year. Bentley said she was particularly interested in how much money would be allocated for public safety, including law enforcement and fire rescue services.
“I can live without a park. I can live without a library. I need emergency services,” she said.
In the current proposed budget, public safety expenses would be reduced by about 2.4 percent, or about $1 million.
Bentley said she was disappointed by the change.
“That does concern me. But I still don’t know where they’ll find those savings,” she said. “So I still have questions I’ll be following.”
With budget hearings scheduled for June and the deadline for budget passage by June 30, Bentley and other residents have some time to get some answers.