Liberty County’s $35 million draft budget for next year appeared headed for quick approval last week until commissioners began to have second thoughts about providing no pay raise for their employees. A 2.5 percent increase was added to the budget by unanimous vote.
Budget planning is like shooting at moving targets because commissioners must pass a budget before the annual tax digest--the value of all the taxable property in the county--is known. If the tax digest increases the commissioners can hold the line on the millage rate, or even roll it back while still receiving enough revenue to operate. If the digest declines, a higher millage rate must be levied to fund the budget. County Chief Financial Officer Kim McGlothlin said the digest might be available in August.
Events like a pandemic can cut into government revenue, especially sales tax income, at the same time that expenses go up with spending on public health.
When Commissioner Connie Thrift successfully moved that county employees receive an across-the-board increase of 2.5 percent officials immediately began the struggle to rewrite the budget to include the pay hike and related costs. The new fiscal year begins July 1.
CFO McGlothlin usually has such information in hand at budget adoption time in case last minute changes are made. In this year’s budget planning no mention of pay raises was made and there to be little or no money to fund raises, so the usual calculation was not made. For the first time in many years.
Commissioner Gary Gilliard praised the county workforce; he said he understood the need for fire protection but, “Before we bring in even one additional employee, we need to do something for the good, dedicated
County employees that we have. Before we spend a dime, a nickel or a penny we need to do that.”
County finance workers were writing the increases into the budget and making related changes at the Courier’s press time.
One large item in the county budget is the hiring of 18 full time professional firefighters as part of the countywide fire protection which also includes firehouses and equipment.
McGlothlin provided a happy report on the rate of sales tax collections. With people staying home more because of the COVID-19 pandemic and many businesses closed, a drop in sales tax revenue was expected. But McGlothlin reported that the May 2020 sales tax income was more than May 2019 had been. “Revenue did not slow as much as we thought it might.”
The finance director reported that the Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax approved by voters would begin in October. Liberty County will then have an eight percent sales tax, the top rate currently allowed.
The commissioners named the gymnasium being restored at the Old Liberty County High School site, now the home of the county complex housing the library, Keep Liberty Beautiful, a satellite tax office and a recreation department swimming pool.
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