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Draft budget raises eyebrows

POSTED: May 15, 2007 5:02 a.m.

Effingham County commissioners will spend the next two weeks going over the details of a proposed budget that’s $2 million short.

Commissioners got their first look at spending requests from the various departments that call for $30 million in general fund expenditures. Anticipated general fund revenues are $28 million.

That left commissioners wondering what to cut out of the spending plan.

“There’s a lot of fat in this budget, and I think it can be trimmed down,” Chairwoman Verna Phillips said.

Commissioners also said they wanted to avoid raising the millage rate and didn’t want to resort to using the fund balance to balance the budget, as they did with the fiscal year 2007 budget.

“I’m not about to do it,” Phillips said of the prospect of raising the millage.

The millage rates for Chatham County residents, living in the incorporated area, was 25.59. Those in the unincorporated areas and living in the special service district have a millage rate of 29.06.

The total millage rate for Effingham County residents, in the unincorporated areas, is 29.576. There is an additional 1.178 millage for bonds for the school board.

“They’re saying it’s cheaper to live in Chatham than it is in Effingham,” Phillips said. “And it’s easier to get home.”

County staff met with department heads to go over their requests for the coming fiscal year. Commissioners chastised themselves, among others, for the budget proposals.

“The department heads are responsible and need to control it,” Phillips said. “To have a $2 million increase in the budget is unacceptable. Obviously, we haven’t told the staff how prudent they need to be with the county’s money.”

“You’ve got to know the difference between wants and needs,” Commissioner Hubert Sapp said. “Looking at this draft budget, someone doesn’t know the difference between wants and needs.”

Commissioners also questioned what the rapid rise in fuel will do to the budget. They asked earlier this year for a count of cars in the county’s fleet, including the sheriff’s department, and were told there were 355.

“We had a good number of department heads who were willing to cut line items,” county Chief Financial Officer Joanne Floyd said.

The current fiscal year, which ends June 30, had a budget of approximately $28.2 million, with expected revenues of almost $26.8 million and another $1.46 million in fund balance used.

County Administrator Ed Williams said the county is blessed with residential growth, but that may cause more ills than it solves, even with the continued upward trend of the tax digest.

“Residential growth doesn’t pay for itself,” he said. “I’ve seen some places that almost live off sales taxes.”

Williams and Floyd said the county is currently meeting its current budget obligations. He also asked commissioners to go through the draft and make notes and be ready to question the department heads when they come before the board.

“We know five people will not look at the same thing at the same time in the same way,” Williams said.

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