The Fayette County Commission adopted its $80.85 million budget June 28 that includes the use of $2.8 million of the county’s unrestricted cash reserves, but that deficit will be partially wiped out with recommendations in coming weeks, county officials said.
Commissioner Steve Brown cast the lone vote against the budget, saying he felt it wasn’t sustainable because “our expenditures still exceed our revenue.”
Commissioner Lee Hearn noted that the county still has $10 million in unrestricted cash reserves on top of an additional three months of operating expenses set aside along with an additional $2 million “emergency’ fund.
Hearn said he was also a bit concerned about spending any portion of the unrestricted cash reserve, but “as long as we’re managing it, I don’t have a big problem with that.” Hearn credited the leadership of the commission under former Chairman Jack Smith for amassing the significant unrestricted cash reserves.
Commissioner Allen McCarty said while the budget isn’t balanced between revenues and expenditures, he would vote for it and he looks forward to voting on future budget-cutting remedies devised by county staff.
Commissioner Robert Horgan said the county has been reducing spending while still providing the same level of service seen before the economic downturn began siphoning away from the county’s budget thanks to decreased property values.
Both Hearn and Horgan are running for reelection in the July 31 Republican Primary, while ex-Commissioner Smith is competing in the primary to reclaim a spot on the board. Hearn works for another government in Henry County. He is the director of the McDonough Department of Public Works.
The budget will require an increase in the fire property tax millage rate for property owners in unincorporated Fayette County, Tyrone, Brooks and Woolsey as those areas are served by the county’s fire department. Without the recommended .523 millage rate hike for the fire service, the county would have to cut fire department employees to balance the $750,000 shortfall left due to a 12.8 percent decrease in property values, outgoing County Administrator Jack Krakeel has said.
For a homeowner with a home valued at $250,000, they would pay another $50 a year for fire services under the proposed millage increase. But if a $250,000 home had its value decrease by the average drop in values to $218,000, the homeowner would realize a $10 increase on his yearly tax bill, Holland added.
Residents in Peachtree City and Fayetteville will not see the property tax increase because they are served instead by their respective city fire departments, paid for with the city taxes.
The budget also includes a complete funding the $1.1 million cost of the early retirement program which moved 33 long-time employees off the payroll and is expected to save about $1 million a year in the next budget year and beyond, county officials said.
The early retirement program was one of Brown’s budgetary objections, as he doesn’t think it will provide the cost savings that were promised.
Commission Chairman Herb Frady noted that the entire commission voted in favor of offering the early retirement program, including Brown.
“It’s a cost savings project for the county and it’s going to save us millions of dollars into the future,” Frady said.
Horgan said he felt the retirement plan allowed the county to avoid layoffs and furloughs for county employees.
Brown was also critical of the county paving gravel roads in this economy, but Hearn noted that the county saves money when they are paved because they won’t have to maintain them anymore. Gravel roads must be scraped periodically, especially after periods of heavy rain, among other maintenance issues, Hearn has said in the past.