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County holds second hearing on budget, tables discussion on SROs
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County officials had looked at imposing property tax after the on-post housing manager opened rentals to everyone, not just military families.

At their June 1, County Commissioners meeting the Board of Commissioners went into a public hearing for a review of the proposed fiscal year 2022 budget. According to Finance Officer Kim McGlothlin the County is expecting to bring in $41,031,456 in revenue during FY 2022. She said the County’s original budget request came in at over $51 million dollars. She said her department worked hard and made almost $9.6 million worth of cuts to reach their current budget value which was still roughly $2.2 million increase from last year.

The largest revenue feed is coming from property tax collections, McGlothlin said. She said in 2012 property tax collection was approximately 14 million and they expect 24 million for FY 2022.

As she reviewed the expenditures, she said the three largest expenditures were as follows:

Public Safety takes up 44 percent of the budget. That includes the Sheriff’s Department, Fire Department, Emergency Management, County Coroner and Animal Control. The budget includes the salaries to hire 18 additional firefighters and the transition of EMS services from the Hospital Authority to the County which was later approved unanimously by the Board during the meeting.

General Government Departments take up 24 percent of the budget and the Judicial Departments take up 14 percent of the budget. She explained that certain services are mandated by law and take up $25 million of the budget which is roughly 61 percent of the proposed budget.

She said they are still learning about how the County will be allowed to use the American Rescue Plan funds.

There will be a final public hearing during the Commissioners’ mid-month meeting on June 17, before the Commissioners take their final vote on the matter. Until then the Board may request and make changes or adjustments to the proposed budget until they vote on the issue.

However, not included in the budget was expenses needed to hire three additional school resource officers that are being requested by the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office and the Liberty County School Board. The Board listened to County Attorney Kelly Davis outline current contract negotiations that are taking place between the BOE and the Sheriff’s Office.

“The School Board would like to expand the resource officer program to, not only Liberty High, but to Liberty Elementary and Midway Middle School and that would require three additional officers…and your only participation in the agreement which is largely between the Sheriff’s Office and the Board of Education is for budgetary purposes, to approve the budget that might be needed to expand the SRO program, Davis said.

Davis said the BOE does pay the majority the expenses associated with the program. He said the contract is being structured in a manner where the BOE will pay 100 percent of the payroll and salaries for the new and current SROs, but the County would need to pay for certain miscellaneous items, like the initial purchases of cars and uniforms.

“Right now, your School Resource Officer is budgeted at $72,000,” McGlothlin said. “The budget that we just did, those three new officers are not part of that budget,” she said. “If you want to go ahead and support this, that is one of the things you would have to change before you adopt your budget at the mid-month meeting.”

The Board decided to table the issue until their mid-month meeting to get more clarification on questions they want to address with the BOE and the Sheriff’s Office.

Davis also presented an ordinance amendment to restrict ATVs, four-wheelers and other motorized vehicles from being driven inside County parks.

“It is a simple ordinance,” Davis said. “It prohibits the unauthorized use of any vehicle in County parks.” He explained that in the Fleming area there have been several accounts of ATV drivers coming to close to children in the playground area at Gill Park.

While the Board approved the ordinance amendment, the Board requested that steps be taken in creating a place within the County where an off-road vehicle park can be constructed.

The prohibition of unauthorized vehicles in County parks goes into effect July 1.

“I understand the need for the ordinance and why we are coming up with it,” Commissioner Maxie R. Jones IV said. “But from the viewpoint, standpoint of a responsible ATV owner, we sort of appreciate these areas we have to ride because there is limited access to where we have to ride.”

“We do need to figure out and alternative, so they have somewhere safe to ride,” Commissioner Justin Frasier said noting he was an avid ATV rider during his adolescence.

The Board said there might be other parks in the County that could set aside areas for responsible off-road usage. Davis said he would ask the Recreation Department Board to consider the possibilities.

Board Chairman Donald Lovette said they don’t want to exclude anyone but at the same time they don’t want irresponsible riders to damage the parks they are currently renovating and spend tax dollars on.

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