Hall County departments need a better way to plan their budgets for the future, two top county officials said Tuesday.
"One of the things that became evident to us is that Hall County doesn't have a capital budget with a projection of what the capital costs are going to be five years out," said Jock Connell, interim county administrator.
"Not all of the requests will be funded, but the purpose is to determine what the needs are," he said. "Whether we've got the money or not, it's foolish not to acknowledge that these needs are going to be there. Though we may not be able to fund them, let's at least identify them."
Every department and agency that requests funding from Hall County must present a budget this week for the fiscal year that starts July 1. On Tuesday, several department heads requested vehicles, noting the older models guzzle gas, require high maintenance costs and are almost beyond repair.
"We need to develop a vehicle replacement policy and have a plan for our fleets so we can acknowledge these items are coming up," said Lisa Johnsa, interim finance director. "We want to start pulling that from the departments and start moving in that direction, although the pieces may not be complete in the coming weeks."
An economic downturn gives the time to plan, Connell said.
"People will ask why they didn't plan, but it's not that they didn't plan. When the growth hit and the economy was turned on, they were fighting fires," he said. "What we're trying to do right now is get some of these planning tools in place for when the economy changes, and we all know it will change. We want to position Hall County for when the economy does turn around."
For now, officials must deal with an $8.8 million gap in the fiscal year 2012 budget. Finance staff and several county commissioners listened to budget hearings for a second day, focusing on the Hall County Sheriff's Office and the public works department Tuesday.
"We've got a real crisis going on with the $8.8 million, which means either cutting expenses or raising taxes, and I don't see how people are going to survive if we put another burden on them," Doug Aiken, a Hall County resident who attended the public hearings Monday and Tuesday, said to Sheriff Steve Cronic. "Y'all consume a lot of the budget, so anything you can do to help, throw it in there."
Most departments, including the sheriff's office, are submitting budgets similar to last year.
"Along with the downturn in the economy, we're seeing an increase in crime associated with theft and burglary," Cronic said. "Everyone is seeing and dealing with that across the nation."
Cronic raised concerns about increased fuel prices and vehicle maintenance in the year ahead.
"The patrol are the lifeblood of a law enforcement agency, and that's primarily through vehicles that log more than 2.4 million miles per year," he said.
"We understand the economic situation and aren't requesting new vehicles now, but it'll come due eventually and we really need to start thinking about what we're going to do to keep vehicles running."