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Local agencies brace for budget trickle-down effect
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Some local agencies are bracing themselves for possible budget cuts after Gov. Sonny Perdue announced last week the state will come up at least $1 billion short this year and will not be able to give out as much money.
The state did not fare well last fiscal year, which caused overestimates in the budget for the current fiscal year that began July 1.
Departments originally were asked to trim their budgets by at least three percent to add to an extra $625 million for the state, consequently affecting Georgians at the lowest level.
Kim McGlothlin, chief finance officer for the county commission, said the state mandate will have a local effect on the county, but it would be hard to tell how much.
"Until the exact dollar amount of those budget cuts take place, it's going to be hard to estimate the total impact to the county," McGlothlin said. "Some of the impact might be direct and some of it might be a trickle down effect."
She mentioned the $1 million the county was looking to receive this year from the homeowner's tax-relief grant may be in jeopardy since the state is also looking to reduce or eliminate the grant to bank an extra $428 million.
The grant helps unincorporated areas, such as road maintenance, solid waste and fire service.
"If we get impacted, then really our only other recourse at that time would be to either cut the program, cut services or increase property tax," McGlothlin said.
The majority of the county's $25 million general fund budget is supported by property tax, local option sales tax, fines and forfeitures, with little coming from the state and grants.
Property tax is the only income source the county has authority to adjust.
McGlothlin said county agencies that receive direct revenue from the state would feel the state budget cuts the most.
"In my mind, it's going to be the Board of Education and possibly the health department that will be impacted first and foremost," she said. "Those are much more impacted directly than we would be."
McGlothlin foresees the Board of Education, Liberty Regional Medical Center and the health and sheriff departments possibly requesting more from the county if state assistance is limited.
The Health Department already receives an estimated $289,000 a year from the county to help run more than 39 services for residents and LRMC receives an annual $100,000 from the county for an ambulance.
Jason Rogers, chief finance officer for the Board of Education, said the cuts would have "tremendous," impact on the board.
Of the approximate $110 million budget, the BoE depends on the state to provide 62 percent of it, with 19 percent from local funds.
Earmarked salaries would not be considered in adjusting to possible budget cuts, according to Rogers.
"We would not be able to use that money (salaries) to help offset that increase," he said.
McGlothlin added the county receives state reimbursements for housing certain inmates in jails, which may be reduced.
Cuts to budgets could mean sacrificing quality of public service, according to a report released by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.  
"Budget cuts totaling over $700 million could have a significant negative effect on the education, health and safety of a majority of Georgians," its report read.
The county is waiting on more details before taking action.
"If it did impact us, say within the next six months, our recourse, unfortunately, would be to address some of these cuts during the millage rate process, and nobody likes to hear that," she said.
Deficit reduction proposals include an extra dollar tax on a pack of cigarettes. Officials estimate if this policy went into effect by Oct. 1, the state could save an extra $332 million. Total proposal plans  
The General Assembly is expected to meet in a special session to further discuss budget shortages and solutions.

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