By Tia Lynn Ivey
County staff proposed the new FY 2018 budget to the Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC), totaling over $25.5 million, a $2.8 million increase from last year’s budget. The total general fund for the proposed budget comes in at nearly $17.3 million, which is a $672,836 increase from last year’s general fund. The budget proposal does not call for raising property taxes this year through the millage rate, but does not aim to lower property taxes either.
“We are recommending the millage rate stay as it is—to stay flat this year,” said Adam Mestres, county manager, to the BOC at Tuesday’s work session. County staff cited a downward trend in sales tax revenue coupled with overdue capital-needs projects for the budgeted expense increases and recommendation to keep the millage rate at its current level, 11.149, forgoing the rollback rate for the coming year. The rollback rate has not been officially calculated yet.
According to county officials, whether or not property owners tax bills increase will depend on whether or not their property values increased from last year and won’t increase due to the millage rate.
“As we continue to bounce back in the economy…values of property goes up,” said Mestres.
According to the county, existing property values in Morgan County are up by $36 million from last year due to houses selling at higher rates than in previous years. The property digest, which is based on existing properties, new construction, and renovations, has also increased, currently totaling $889 million, about $70 million more than last year’s digest.
“These are all signs of a strengthening economy,” said Mestres.
Mestres believes the proposed budget is fiscally sound and will help the county catch up on projects that were put off during the hardest years of the recession.
“We believe the proposed budget is a good representation of the needs of the county for the upcoming fiscal year. And it also addresses capital needs that have not been addressed due to lack of funding over the last several years,” explained Mestres.
The “big ticket” items in the proposed budgets include repairs and maintenance on county buildings, new state mandatory requirement for cancer insurance for all firefighters, and fleet replacement for the county’s vehicles and other heavy-duty equipment.
“We have to start by replacing vehicles that have 200,000-plus miles, which is a significant number,” said Mestres, who noted 18 percent of the county’s fleet is over 200,000. The county is also planning to give county employees a flat raise of $1500 per year as a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). Mestres is proud to have achieved a negotiation that lowers healthcare costs for the county.
“There are no increases in healthcare costs. We negotiated a decrease in our health insurance premiums without reducing benefits to our employees,” said Mestres.
Mestres also has his eye on replenishing the county’s fund balance in coming years. The fund balance, as of June 30, is at 19.1 percent, which is a total of about $3.3 million. The current amount is within the parameters of the Georgia Finance Officers Association’s recommended level for fund balance, which is between 15-25 percent.
““Our goal is to have at least three months of operating expenses, which would be a 25 percent fund balance,” said Mestres. However, the county does not budget to increase the fund balance.
“We don’t budget for the fund balance. Increasing the fund balance happens slowly over time as the result of being fiscally prudent and coming in under budget. Then that left over money gets forwarded into the fund balance,” explained Mestres.
Mestres encouraged the BOC to get creative in coming years to find ways to increase revenue streams without raising the millage rate.
The first public hearing on the county’s proposed budget will take place on Tuesday, June 6 at 9:30 a.m. The second public hearing will be on held on Tuesday, June 20 at 5 p.m. The vote to adopt the budget will be head directly after the June 20 public hearing.