By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
County takes 1st look at draft FY25 budget
liberty county logo

Liberty County commissioners held their first public hearing on a fiscal year 2025 budget that projects to be $61.87 million in spending and revenue.

The proposed budget is a 6.67% increase from the current FY24 budget, which is $58 million. Spending requests from department heads and constitutional officers came in at nearly $66.9 million.

“We had some passionate pleas, especially from our court system,” commission Chairman Donald Lovette said. “We have the largest population in the (Atlantic Judicial Circuit) and the largest share of cases. We are a growing community and with a growing community comes a little bit of everything.”

Property taxes, which made up nearly $37 million of the county’s general fund revenue for FY24, are projected to bring in $38.9 million for FY25, or 63% of the revenues. Commissioners will set the millage rate later this year after the digest has been approved.

The county is projecting to take in less for charges for services, down to $7.5 million from nearly $8 million. Sales and use tax proceeds are expected to climb from $5.2 million to almost $5.8 million.

The biggest jump in expenditures is in salaries and wages, going from $28.8 million to $30.3 million, a rise of 5%. Benefits are going from $10.8 million to $11.4 million, also a nearly 5% hike. Purchased services are climbing nearly 8%, from $11.8 million to $12.7 million.

“Salaries and benefits are always going to be the largest expenditure,” county chief financial officer Samantha Richardson told commissioners.

Purchased services is going up largely due to inflation and rising costs across the board, Richardson said.

Salaries and wages are expected to make up nearly half — 49% - of expenditures in the FY25 budget. The budget includes $2.6 million more in personnel and benefits from FY24, with $1.6 million going toward cost of living adjustment, merit and longevity pay.

“We wanted to make sure our staff was paid fairly, so we hope we’re up to date, at least for a little while,” Lovette said.

Another $880,000 is going to public safety as the county fire services adds personnel for a full year, rather than a half year as they were put in for the current budget.

“We’re staffing it minimally,” Lovette said, “not ideally.”

By department, public safety — which includes the sheriff ’s office, EMS and fire — will account for the largest share of the spending, 42%, at just shy of $27.7 million. General government is next at $17.3 million, or 28%. By percentage, general government is accounting for less of the projected budget, down from 31% for FY24.

County officials also outlined the spending between mandated, essential and discretionary services. Mandated services, such as the court system, the sheriff ’s office, the jail, elections, tax commissioner, tax assessor, coroner and emergency management, which are required by law, make up about 47% of the spending, or $29.2 million. Essential services — such as fire protection, EMS, animal control, roads, mosquito control, library, and the Department of Family and Children Services — make up $31.9 million, or 52% of the spending. Discretionary services, which include community services, senior citizens programs and the narcotics division, make up 1% of spending.

County Administrator Joey Brown said the county’s millage rate is among the top one-third of the state’s 159 counties. But what the county offers in services to some of its nearby counties also is different. For instance, Bryan County’s millage rate is lower but charges a separate fee for recreation. Chatham County does not assess a recreation fee but also handles its recreation programs differently.

“It is important to compare apples to apples,” he said.

The lowest millage rates are in southwest Georgia, Brown said, mostly in counties that are stagnant in growth or shrinking. Lovette also said Liberty County has to plan to have services for all its population.

“You’re supporting a population, in and out, of 100,000 folks,” Brown said. “So you’ve got to provide the services for that.”

The county’s sales tax proceeds continue to be strong, with $1.163 million collected for the special local option sales tax in March. Since the current SPLOST began, more than $12 million has been collected. More than $38.8 million of the anticipated Transportation- SPLOST has been collected to date.

There are still $6.5 million left in the SPLOST VI to spend, Richardson said. The SPLOST VI proceeds are obligated to qualifying projects.

Sign up for our e-newsletters