The group responsible for bringing new commercial and industrial developments to Dawson County could be in danger of closing within the next 18 months if it doesn't secure county funding.
County Commission Chairman Mike Berg addressed the situation facing the local development authority during a meeting Aug. 8.
"I can't be more emphatic about this," said Berg when presenting the county's proposed 2014 budget to the commission. "They are in danger within a year and a half of closing shop, and that's without spending any money at all for the studies they have to do for these businesses. They just don't have money to continue."
Commissioners cut funding to the authority in 2011, despite Berg's plea that the move could make Dawson appear anti-business.
"The rest of the state will see us for what we're able to do as far as supporting those that bring new business to the county," he said Aug. 8.
Berg recommended that the commission restore $75,000 in funding, half of the authority's annual budget. In doing so, he noted how the authority had helped secure several new businesses announced recently.
"Even then, they've got to come up with new ways to create revenue to supplement what they do," he said. "It's just essential as far as bringing in business into our community."
Charlie Auvermann, the authority's executive director, on Tuesday agreed with Berg's assessment.
"The development authority has continued to work to attract new business to the county just as the authorities have in the surrounding counties," he said.
Late last year, Dawson County was one of five counties in the state selected to make a presentation to a large European manufacturer, according to Auvermann.
"If a county does not have a development authority, it is not considered for such projects," he said.
Thursday will be the first opportunity the public has to comment on the county's $21 million budget for 2014, which limits expenses to critical capital needs.
"The overall process helps us determine what's needed, what's wanted and what you'd like to have, and definitely the need is the things we look at first," Berg said.
In addition to replacing four aging sheriff's patrol cars and to buy a new ambulance, the spending plan includes repairs to the county's swimming pool at Veterans Memorial Park and some new computers.
There is also a recommendation to use money from the county's solid waste fund to buy a utility vehicle for the transfer station.
For the sixth consecutive year, the budget does not include a cost-of-living raise for employees, though Berg has recommended spending $23,000 on a study to compare salaries to those of similar-sized governments.
He also wants funding for salary adjustments and increases for employees that "go above and beyond."
"One bad thing about COLAs is they award everybody indiscriminately ... everybody gets the same thing," he said.
"I think all the employees in this county do a good job, but there are employees that do a better job and [need] to be rewarded. One way to do that is pay for performance."
As in years past, salaries and benefits represent the county's greatest expense at $12.9 million, or about 61 percent, of the overall budget.
With a slight overall increase of less than $2,000, the 2014 budget continues a hiring freeze, aside from upgrading two part-time positions to full time, one each in human resources and the tax commissioner's office. Both result from increased workloads created by new laws.
The plan calls for no employee furloughs and restores $15,000 to the health department for a full-time environmental health employee and $9,000 to the library to alleviate furloughs.
"Now, we expect from [the library] that they be open when they say they will be open," Berg said. "As you know, we agreed just a few weeks ago for them to use the annex building on (Hwy.) 53 to be able to drop books off, pick books up ... and I heard that's going pretty well, with no expense to us."
The proposed budget recommends using $756,500 of the county's reserves to offset declines in property tax revenue, grading permits and business licenses, as well as electricity cost increases.
That would leave about $3.3 million in the county's reserve fund balance, still within the recommended 15 to 25 percent range, Berg said.
Commissioners are reviewing the proposed budget and can make suggestions, though it's likely any changes would be zero-based since they voted in July to keep the millage the same at 8.138 mills.
Two public hearings are required before the commission can adopt the budget. The hearings, which are open to the public, are set for 6 p.m. Thursday and Sept. 5 in the assembly room at the Dawson County Government Center, 25 Justice Way in Dawsonville.