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Board restores authority funding
Amended budget also includes ambulances
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The Dawson County commission on Thursday voted to restore funding to the group responsible for recruiting industrial development.

In a 4-0 vote, the commissioners approved the county's $21 million budget for 2014, which includes $75,000 for the local development authority, funding that was cut two years earlier.

"The development authority is very happy and excited that the board of commissioners reestablished part of our funding," said Peter Hill, chairman.

"It shows support for the economic development for our community and sends an important message to developers and our residents that our board of commissioners supports economic development in our county."

Charlie Auvermann, the authority's executive director, said the partnership will play a role in the county's ability to overcome the recent recession and flourish in the coming months.

"By attracting new businesses to our community, by helping our existing businesses grow, we expand the tax base for the board of commissioners who in turn can fund the services that help make Dawson County a wonderful place to live, work and play," he said.

"You can see all across rural Georgia the effects of communities that ignore economic development, and the effects of those that partner together to create sustainable, thriving communities for their citizens. Those that ignore it are struggling."

In addition to replacing four aging sheriff's patrol cars and buying two new ambulances, the budget includes money for repairs to the county's swimming pool at Veterans Memorial Park and some new computers.

Commissioner Gary Pichon had hoped the commission would approve buying additional patrol cars, but his motion to do so did not receive a second.

He was, however, able to convince his colleagues to approve the $150,000 purchase of a second ambulance that would replace one of two the county has been advised to retire. His motion was amended to draw the money from the county's solid waste funds rather than from reserves.

The overall budget calls for using about $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 fund balance, still within the recommended 15 to 25 percent range, said Berg, who cautioned the commission about using reserves.

"Public safety is more important to me than balance in the bank at this point," Pichon said. "Rainy day funds are for rainy days and it's raining."

Berg suggested the commission consider placing additional public safety equipment such as patrol cars as top-tier purchases on a future referendum to extend the 1-cent sales tax. The commission is expected to put the matter before voters in late 2014.

"We need to protect ourselves and the citizens by having money set aside for emergency issues," he said.

With a slight overall increase of less than $2,000, the 2014 budget continues a hiring freeze with the exception of upgrading two part-time positions to full time.

One of those is in human resources and the other in the tax commissioner's office. Both result from increased workloads created by new laws, officials have said.

For the sixth consecutive year, the budget does not include a cost-of-living raise for employees, but $23,000 has been approved for a study to compare salaries to those of similar-sized governments.

In previous budget talks, Berg has said funds will be used for salary increases based on findings from the study for employees that "go above and beyond."

"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," he said.

Commissioners spent nearly a month reviewing the proposed budget. That came after they voted in July to set the county's portion of the millage rate at 8.138 mills, the same it has been for the last several years.

Also during last week's budget discussion, Pichon made a motion to change the manner in which the county's hotel and motel taxes are managed.

Currently distributed through the chamber of commerce, Pichon said he wanted the funds to be handled in house and the county "take responsibility of spending that money."

Christie Haynes, president of the chamber of commerce and office of tourism development, said she was surprised by Pichon's motion.

She cited Georgia code that states counties have a "responsibility to expend hotel/motel tax funds to a private nonprofit organization for the purposes of promoting tourism."

"The Dawson County Office of Tourism Development promotes the many varied attractions and accommodations throughout our county from the North Georgia Premium Outlets to Amicalola Falls State Park," she said.

"Our goal is to attract a greater number of visitors to our county, which generates local investment and greater tax revenue, which benefits all county residents by lowering the tax burden on property and business owners."

Pichon's motion died for lack of a second.