BOC to adopt $14.1M budget this Thursday
By Michael Prochaska
The Morgan County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to adopt its $14.166 million budget for the upcoming 2013 fiscal year on Thursday, at 7 p.m.
With $12.268 million in projected revenue, the county will see a deficit of about $1.9 million.
County Manager Michael Lamar said that the county will likely dip into the previous fiscal year’s fund balance to make up the difference.
Lamar’s recommendation is to leave the property tax rate at 8.99 mils, though a public hearing about increasing or maintaining the current millage rate is slated for 6:30 p.m., July 19.
Due to a major loss in the value of commercial and personal properties, property tax revenue is expected to decrease by about $933,000, or a 14.72 percent drop from the previous year.
Unless the market rebounds quickly, a tax increase is likely for the 2014 fiscal year, Lamar said.
Traffic citation revenue has decreased significantly this year, and will continue at a $125,000 reduction for FY13, due to lower gas expenses, Lamar said.
A tax-abatement program that allows farm owners to agree not to develop their land for at least 10 years, otherwise known as Conservation Use Value Assessment (CUVA), will result in a $420,000 reimbursement, or a $171,000 increase from last year.
Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) revenue is budgeted at $2.7 million, up $100,000 from a previous draft of the FY13 budget.
Overall expenditures increased by approximately $160,000.
Funds to law enforcement administration increased due to a consolidation of departments from five to two but overall, the largest line item expenditure is $24,000 for the salary of a captain position in the Sheriff’s Department.
Election funds increased by $7,820 due to two election dates scheduled in the coming fiscal year.
The Superior Court will receive an increase of $15,373 or 47 percent due to payments to other agencies.
Insurance costs with Blue Cross Blue Shield increased by $85,000 or seven percent.
Library funds increased by $16,400 due to a newly constructed Uncle Remus administrative building and library in Morgan County.
The county also put an additional $35,000 in contingency.
Only one member of the public spoke in opposition to the budget at the June 19 second reading.
Magistrate Judge Connie Holt asked that that her lowest paid clerk receive up to $12 an hour.
“These girls work hard.,” she said. “I’ve been with this county for 30 years and y’all have been great to me, but this is not right.”
Lamar noted that constitutional officers have the authority to subjectively allocate raises subject to job performance and that compared to the Magistrate and Superior Court, the overall increases were equitable.
Contested Line Items
Morgan Memorial Hospital will receive an increase in its annual stipend from the county for the first time in more than three years.
A $100,000 increase will bring the stipend up to $700,000 from $600,000.
The additional funding originated out of a letter from newly hired CEO Ralph Castillo, but a follow-up letter outlined several key points justifying the request.
First, he wrote, the hospital budgeted approximately $645,000 less in net patient revenue for FY13 due to adjusting average daily census figures.
Second, Castillo wrote, “…based on the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, our reimbursement for bad debts from Medicare will be reduced by 35 percent.”
Lastly, he wrote that funding received from the Indigent Care Trust Fund continues to see cuts.
Commissioner Mack Bohlen said he supports the hospital but that the Fire Department, Sheriff’s Department and E-911 are also in the life-saving business and questioned whether they should receive a sizable increase in funding as well.
“I look at all these counties, and we’re ahead of them for what we donate to the hospital,” Bohlen said of a document Lamar drafted containing hospital subsidies of surrounding counties.
Commissioner Ellen Warren, who sits on the Hospital Authority Board, said the Fire Department will receive SPLOST Funds – $1.5 million, according to Lamar – and that law enforcement has other methods of generating revenue.
Furthermore, Morgan Memorial received about $1 million in county funding prior to the recession, said Ron Milton, hospital authority treasurer and District 5 Board of Commissioners candidate.
A 10 percent salary increase to the Morgan County Ag Extension Office saw some debate as well.
“There’s nowhere written in the law that we have to give any state agency a stipend,” Bohlen said.
The increase equates to about $1,500. but because officers of the Ag. Extension Office are employees of the University of Georgia and not Morgan County, some commissioners asked whether a salary increase was fair if county employees were not subject to similar increases.
“To me it seems like the rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” said Commissioner Donald Harris, stating his belief that employees of the Roads and Bridges Department receive too little in salary funds.
Warren responded with another adage, saying that comparing the salaries of unrelated professions is comparing apples to oranges.
“Again I feel like we’re going to have to provide this money sooner than later, if the current extension agents moves on,” she said. “Every dollar is important to our budget but relative to our entire budget is not an enormous amount.”
The board came to a consensus to put the $1,500 in contingency.
Though the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced a consolidation plan earlier this year in which Morgan and Greene counties would now operate within the Oconee County office, essentially closing its Madison office, the U.S. Government has not officially vacated the building. Until Morgan County receives a four-month notice requesting the termination of the lease, the county will continue to receive a monthly payment of $1,700 as part of the lease agreement. The FSA is not subject to penalty for terminating the lease at an earlier date.
The county may go six months without half the lease money for the fiscal year, Lamar said.
Commissioners must also decide whether to keep the current 29-hour schedule for a Natural ResourcesConservation Service (NRCS) administrative/secretarial position carrying a salary of $16,558 or to cut the hours in half. The NRCS currently shares office space with the FSA.
Bohlen also said that he believes the Tax Assessors Office, which currently employs eight individuals, may be overstaffed.
Lamar contacted seven jurisdictions and noted that Morgan County is on the higher end of staffing levels in terms of number of employees, but that 400 CUVA participants are coming up for renewal so there will be an increase in workload.
Lamar said there will likely be an analyses of job responsibilities in the coming year to determine whether layoffs are needed.
Across the board, layoffs were off the table this year, with the exception of one non-full time position in the Planning and Zoning Department, which was vacated due to a lack of building construction, Lamar said.
The position of special projects coordinator in the county manager’s office was not currently being held and thus taken off the FY13 budget.
Requests that have been denied
The Morgan County Fire Department asked for an additional $39,710 a year for adding hours for part-time personnel and permanent call-in employees
Law enforcement administration asked for two additional Deputies at $71,680 a year for both and two additional patrol cars at $60,000 a year for both.
A request for an additional code enforcement officer with an attached $32,500 salary was also denied.
Printed in the June 28, 2012 edition