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Budget limits spending
First public hearing scheduled Thursday
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A proposed draft of the 2013 budget for Dawson County is available for review at the county clerk's office, 25 Justice Way, Suite 2236, Dawsonville and at

The public will get its first opportunity Thursday to comment on Dawson County's proposed 2013 budget.

Commission Chair Mike Berg presented the nearly $21 million preliminary plan, which limits spending to critical capital needs, during an Aug. 9 work session.

In addition to replacing four aging sheriff patrol cars and partially funding a new ambulance, the budget includes funds to upgrade the E-911 system and an increase for road repairs.

It also calls for restoring $75,000 in funding to the Development Authority of Dawson County, a portion of which was cut from the budget last year.

As in years past, salaries and benefits represent the county's greatest expense at $12.8 million, or 61.3 percent, of the overall budget.

"It's always easy to do a budget when there's money coming in," Berg said. "It's always difficult to do a budget when there's no money coming. And for the last three years, there's been no money coming in, so this was a difficult budget."

With an overall increase of $8,287, or .03 percent, from 2012, the 2013 budget, continues the county's hiring freeze, aside from adding a part-time position in human resources and another in emergency services. In addition, there is a recommendation to change a part-time Magistrate Court finance clerk to full time.

For the fifth consecutive year, the budget does not include a cost-of-living raise for employees.

However, county commissioners have said they plan to review this year's budget over the next few months to determine if there's funding to compensate staff. No furloughs are suggested.

"Furloughs are a short-term fix, not a long-term solution," Berg said.

The proposed budget recommends using $675,000 of the county's $3.8 million in reserves to offset increased costs for fuel, health insurance and electricity.

That would leave about $3.8 million in the county's reserve fund balance, still within the recommended 15 to 25 percent range, Berg said.

Among additional challenges in the budget process, Berg cited a drop in property tax revenue, a decline in money for permits associated with building and construction and an increase in unfunded state mandates.

That category included an energy tax reduction, longevity raises for elected officials and changes to the ad valorem tax.

The plan also recommends a $16,500 reduction in hotel/motel tax revenue for the chamber of commerce and $15,000 for the health department, while increasing funding by $6,000 to the humane society and $5,100 to the department of family and children services.

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, with no increase and no roll-up.

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. 6 in the assembly room at the Dawson County Government Center, 25 Justice Way in Dawsonville.