By Tia Lynn Ivey
In light of the public feedback concerning last year’s county millage rate increase and spending decisions of the Morgan County government, the Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) is considering forming a Citizen Budget Committee to participate in the upcoming annual budgeting process. The committee would be comprised of volunteer citizens to follow along with the BOC has the yearly budget is formed, reviewed, and finalized. The committee would also serve as a sort of public relations liaison with the community, to help familiarize citizens with the process, rationales, and priorities of the county’s budget.
The BOC discussed the nature, scope and timing of such a committee at the last county work session earlier this month. County leaders will begin intense budget review in May before adopting the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016/2017 budget this June.
“We probably need to establish the committee and start meeting with them, if that’s your desire…and see if you have people in mind, so we can get the ball rolling,” said County Manager Michael Lamar.
However, Commissioner Andy Ainslie was hesitant to move forward with a citizen budget committee for this fiscal year, concerned that it was already too late in the process to introduce a new committee.
“A committee like this ought to have been formed six months ago, in September or October,” said Ainslie. “I don’t see how we can get it done this late in the game…I am not opposed to it, but the timing is not good.”
Commissioner Ellen Warren was in favor of forming a sort of preliminary committee now, for this budget cycle, and then stepping up the committee’s level of involvement in next year’s budgetary process.
“This could a trial,” said Warren. “My thought is that we advertise and see if there interest is out there and then let these people try it out and see how it all works and make some recommendations to us. In the meantime, we can research if these kinds of committees have benefited other counties.”
“It would be a learning experience to build on and start in full force next year,” added Warren. “I think it would be very beneficial, because they can go back to the community and report on everything that goes into this.”
Ainslie suggested finding out if such a committee has been useful to other communities before starting a citizen budget committee.
“If this has been effective some place, I want to see if it is effective before we put together another committee,” said Ainslie. “I am open to it, but I think we have a lot of groundwork and leg work to do to make it successful. I just want to be real careful as we walk through that, if we are going to bring additional people in on this…We all have biases, even us. As you bring others in, they are going to have biases also, and there is nothing wrong with that. But the difference is that we get elected and if people don’t like what we are doing, we get unelected.”
Warren suggested reaching out to the ACCG (Association of County Commissioners of Georgia, to inquire of the effectiveness of citizen-led budget committees.
Lamar suggested bringing in people now and asking them to stay on for a year-and-half, so they could at least began involvement during this budget cycle and ramp up their involvement during next year’s budgetary process. “They can help us through the remainder of this budgetary process and then they can spend a whole year with us on the next budget process,” said Lamar.
Lamar noted he would reach out to ACCG for input on creating an advertisement.
“I can put something together and you can edit it and we can talk about ideas of better communication with the community to let them know about the process and what goes into the budget,” said Lamar.