An additional manned fire station, a wheelchair lift and more funds for non-profits were among the pleas heard from community members during the public hearing portion of the Dawson County Board of Commissioners Oct. 1 meeting on the county's 2016 spending plan.
Commissioners are set to vote on the proposed $22 million budget that's up nearly $430,000 from 2015, during Thursday's 6 p.m. meeting in the assembly room of the Dawson County Government Center.
Commission chair Mike Berg on Monday said any changes made contrary to the proposed plan would likely be zero-based since the board voted in July to keep the millage the same at 8.138 mills.
Charlie Tarver, who lives east of Ga. 400, encouraged commissioners to consider reopening fire house No. 3 as a fulltime manned station.
The station at the intersection of Harmony Church and Nix Bridge roads was reduced to a volunteer station when the Liberty station at War Hill Park Road moved to the new annex on Hwy. 53.
"We had a fire out in our area last year. It took 9 minutes for the truck to get there from Station 2. The volunteer went from their house to the fire station, it took four minutes and he got there right after the other truck," Tarver said. "Had the station been manned, they would have been there in the time it took to get from their home to there. We're going to need additional people as things continue to grow in this area."
Berg acknowledged the need to man the station, but said the county is in a tight spot at the moment waiting to hear if Dawson County Emergency Services will receive a grant for additional personnel.
"This year in February, [director Billy] Thurmond put in for a safer grant, which was a grant for 10 people for two years at the cost of $1.1 million," Berg said. "The downsize of all that is they will not give us credit for anybody that's hired once you've applied for that grant, so if we hire five folks, which Billy said that's' the minimum to man a station...then your grant automatically decreases to 6 people instead of 10."
Still, Berg said, Station 2 is "next in line."
Dawson County Humane Society President Carolyn Bowen also addressed the board with disappointment that funds would be cut by $6,000, or 5 percent, for 2016 when they "had requested an increase" of the same amount.
"Just as all other provider costs have risen, our costs have risen also," she said. "We respectfully request that you reconsider this drastic funding cut, since it places more of the financial burden of housing and caring for Dawson County's stray animals on the volunteers and supporters of the humane society."
Berg cited the humane society's recently opened thrift store that has collected nearly $70,000 in revenue, saying the county's position on funding organizations would be the expectation that the group would continue its own fundraising efforts.
"The more you can get, the less the taxpayers have to pay into that," he said, adding that other non-profits were seeing reductions in the budget.
Like the humane society, other entities receiving county support made requests for additional funds, including the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce and Office of Tourism Development, which receives funding from the county through hotel/motel tax allocations.
According to President Christie Haynes, there is a vital need for a wheelchair lift at the visitor's welcome center on Ga. 400.
"Although technically handicap accessible, currently if someone with a disability comes into our office, they have to go in through a side door. I'm personally not comfortable with that historic connotation," Haynes said.
The estimate for installing a lift is at minimum $17,000, but could run substantially more if code requires a commercial grade system.
"We wouldn't come to you asking for more if we didn't think this was really vital for our whole community, not just our organization," she said. "We're asking, based on 2014 [hotel/motel tax revenue] for that 1 percent, which equates to ... $33,004."
The requests are currently being considered by commissioners, who are also looking at the proposal for a new part time Magistrate judge position that will assist in the court's caseload and adding a new position in facilities and another in parks and recreation.
There's also a recommendation to set aside $40,000 that would be used as transitional funding in the event that the new sheriff, who will be elected in 2016, is not a current sheriff's office employee.
Other recommendations include 11 self-contained breathing apparatus ($57,830) and a thermal camera ($6,700) for the fire department, funds for a Ga. 400 corridor study ($14,000) and county visioning plan ($5,000), a John Deere Gator for the park system ($10,000), software updates in the clerk of courts office ($9,000) and a remodel at the library's eastside satellite location ($6,500).
Capital improvements would be primarily funded as 1-cent sales tax revenues are generated, Berg said.
As in years past, salaries and benefits represent the county's greatest expense at $14.1 million, or about 64.1 percent, of the overall budget.
The plan also recommends adding $150,000 to the county's contingency funds to cover unexpected general expenses, insurance and fuel increases.
That would place about $4.5 million in the county's reserve fund balance, within the recommended 15 to 25 percent range, according to Berg.
Among additional challenges in the budget process, Berg cited a drop in property tax revenue dating back to 2009 though the county does expect to see an increase of about 6.71 percent, or $608,000, in 2016, insurance cost increases and the continuation of unfunded state mandates.