Note: The second and third county budget hearings will occur during the Board of Commissioners' Oct. 20 and Nov. 3 voting sessions, which will both immediately follow the 4 p.m. work sessions on each of those dates.
Employees will be at the forefront of proposed fiscal increases if Dawson County’s 2023 budgets are passed later this year.
This story continues below.
During his Oct. 6 presentation, Board of Commissioners Chairman Billy Thurmond said six part-time firefighter EMT and paramedic positions–three each–would be changed to full-time roles, a “cost-neutral” endeavor, if the 2023 budgets pass.
Thurmond elaborated that he’s “not really proposing new positions at this time” based on the 27 vacancies in full-time positions that the county currently has.
“It’s imperative that we work to continue to fill those,” he said.
The chairman acknowledged that some departments may continue to be in need of more help next year, so after the first quarter, he and the board should “see where we stand” in terms of each office’s needs.
“Then we can go back, look and see what positions are high priority that we need to fill,” he added.
Overall personnel costs, including salary and benefits, are expected to be $28,931,238 in 2023, a 9.8% increase from 2022.
Last year, the board approved $3-per-hour raises for DCSO and $2 for other first responders and public works employees.
The majority of the budget increase for staff will go toward the 5% COLA increases that the board approved in September and a $1 million contingency for starting the move to a merit-based system pay, Thurmond said.
“I think the board has proven to staff that they consider them to be a valuable asset,” said Thurmond, “and if you approve this, you’ll be showing them that again with this $1 million I've put in the budget.”
As well, Dawson County received $5.071 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds in 2021. Some of these funds have been used to cover COVID-19 paid time off for employees, Thurmond said.
For 2023, $1.6 million for first responder personnel costs will be transferred from the general fund to a special ARPA account.
A contingency of $100,000 would be allocated for COVID-19 PTO in 2023. After next year, $659,657 would be left in ARPA funds. After 2024, the county budget would have to pick up the money for any pay raises, Thurmond said.
General and capital funds
Under the proposals, Dawson County’s FY2023 general fund, the county’s biggest sole budget, would increase 14.79% to $37,292,621, but the county’s budgets would collectively decrease by 10.94% to $61,392,257.
The 2023 general fund would conform to the new millage rate of 7.225 mils, Thurmond said.
Dawson County’s millage rate is one of two at work within the county, as the school system has its own rate and taxes collected.
The 2023 general fund would use fund balance reserves of $2.098 million or 5.63% of revenue. That would keep Dawson County well below the maximum range of 15-25% of fund balance that the government could use to maintain a favorable rating like it was given in an earlier fall audit report, Thurmond said.
In the 2023 budget, 38.26% of the county’s revenue would come from property taxes, and the Local Option Sales Tax (L.O.S.T) would make up 28.16%. That’s 66.42% or roughly two-thirds of total revenue, with residential use driving tax collections.
At the board’s May 5 voting session, Development Authority of Dawson County chair Brian Trapnell encouraged a closer 60-40 split to “maintain a stable tax base over time.”
Increasing commercial land would yield $75,000 per acre to the approximate $61,000 yielded by a residential acre, Trapnell said.
As part of increasing commercial revenue, the county and its development authority have tried to woo industrial businesses to the area, such as with the mixed-use Etowah Bluffs and Township project that fell flat back in August.
Of expenses, public safety is expected to take up the biggest chunk of the pie graph at 46%, with 27% of that allocated to the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office and 19% given to other aspects of public safety, such as Fire & EMS, the marshal’s office, coroner, EMA and the Humane Society.
General government, which includes the BOC, administration, elections, IT, HR and multiple tax-related offices, would make up 21% of expenses. The judicial departments, from Superior Court and other courts to the district attorney’s and public defender’s offices, would compose 12% of expenses, Thurmond said.
In the general fund specifically, general government expenses would comprise $7.669 million, a 15.39% increase over 2022. Public safety would make up $7.159 million, an 18.25% increase.
Likewise, the sheriff’s office expenses would entail $10.27 million, up 12.89% from last year’s original budget.
Judicial expenses would total $4.4 million, a 14.64% increase. During departmental budget hearings in August, multiple court officials came before the board to ask for more funding to handle increasing caseloads and operational services.
Many departments’ capital requests can be funded out of the remaining funds for Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax VI, Thurmond said.
SPLOST VII has reached its level II collections benchmark, with $11.685 million expected to be received in 2023. Under the proposed 2023 capital budget, four million dollars would be allocated for the forthcoming emergency operations and E-911 center, he added.
That project is expected to be completed in 2024. Other capital projects would include $1.5 million for courthouse security upgrades and $300,000 for a playground at War Hill Park.
Public budget hearings will be held starting at the BOC’s Oct. 20 4 p.m. work session and the voting session that will immediately follow. The final hearing will be held during the board’s Nov. 3 voting session. Then, the proposed budgets are expected to be adopted.
As part of the BOC meetings, all budget hearings will be held in the board’s assembly room, located on the second floor of the Dawson County Government Center.