Dawson County Board of Commissioners Chair Billy Thurmond presented his proposal for the 2018 fiscal year county budget during a meeting Aug. 10.
Thurmond said one of his goals with the budget process was to set a realistic budget that did not overestimate the amount of revenue the county would receive, as during the past four to five years, the county had yet to reach its projected revenue.
He said priorities for him were to not increase the millage rate, which he has proposed, and to hold budget hearings with all commissioners present in an open door forum.
The proposal reflects a budget increase of 3.76 percent over last year’s budget, a total budget of $37,343,244.
Most of the increases to the budget came from salary increases, upticks in the cost of insurance and and increased demand for services, Thurmond said.
In April the board completed and implemented a salary study that provided staff with $1.08 million in raises.
“I am very proud of the board for implementing a new salary study...even though it came with a high price tag of about a million dollars for the whole year for 2018,” Thurmond said. “I’m very pleased that the board saw fit to put our employees in the situation where we can hang onto those employees.”
The county also saw an increase in the cost of health insurance of over $500,000, an 18 percent increase over last year.
The board did vote earlier this year to place some of the cost back on employees, moving from a model where the county pays 85 percent and employees 15 percent to an 80 percent and 20 percent model.
Thurmond said the county also saw an increase in operational needs of multiple departments.
“A lot of those were state mandated challenges,” Thurmond said. “One of the things we’ve seen is...we’re getting a fifth circuit court judge and a lot of that has a trickle down effect on all of our court services.”
He said that during the board’s open budget hearings, elected officials and department heads requested over $27 million in general funds, including over $1.6 million in new personnel and salary changes.
Thurmond said that he recommended the board not grant any of the changes to salaries and personnel, even as 29 positions remain frozen from before the recession.
Thurmond also addressed each of the county’s funds and what he has planned for that money.
The general fund is the main operating fund of the county with a projected revenue of $25.5 million. Property tax provides 42 percent of the revenue to the general fund.
The proposed budget recommends the use of $1.382 million out of the general fund reserves.
The capital project fund, which is funded by transfers from the general fund, held a little over $600,000 at the end of 2016. There will be no additions to the capital projects fund with the exception of $67,304 for debt service, Thurmond said.
The proposed budget also would utilize $145,000 of SPLOST VI proceeds for county-wide computer replacements.
Thurmond also recommended not funding the Development Authority of Dawson County for the second year in a row, which came as no surprise after a joint meeting between the two boards in which the commissioners voiced their hopes that the development authority become self-sufficient.
Charlie Auvermann, executive director of the development authority, had requested $150,000.
Thurmond also presented the first of three hearings on the proposed millage rate for the county.
He has proposed that the rate remain unchanged at 8.138, the same it has been since 2004.
This rate would increase the property taxes the county will levy this year by 4.45 percent over the rollback rate. The county will levy $10.6 million in property taxes.
The second hearing will be held Aug. 17 at 9 a.m. and the third hearing the same day at 6 p.m., both in the commissioners meeting room at the Dawson County Courthouse.
The board will also conduct a special called meeting on Aug. 24 beginning at 4 p.m. for a public hearing on the proposed budget.