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2017 Liberty County budget: Costs to rise 22 percent
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What’s next

Liberty County commissioners will consider adopting the budget at 5 p.m. Thursday.

Liberty County’s proposed fiscal-year 2017 budget calls for a 22 percent increase.

Chief Financial Officer Kim McGlothlin presented the $34.49 million budget to the Liberty County Board of Commissioners last week. The fiscal 2016 budget was $28.2 million.

McGlothlin reviewed the revenues and expenditures of the budget.

Property taxes make up 63 percent of the county’s revenue, McGlothlin said. Based on this year’s digest, property taxes are expected to generate $22.6 million, an increase of $4.8 million from this year.

A nine-year revenue chart showed property taxes increasing over time, while other revenue streams such as charges for service and fines and forfeitures have either declined or remained flat.

Charges for services have been falling. McGlothlin said the biggest item to decline under service charges is the prisoner inmate housing fee. She said the county is no longer housing federal marshal inmates, who are now exclusively housed in Chatham County.

The highest expenditure is salary and wages, at $11.88 million, a slight increase from this year.

Second to that are employee benefits, at $4.42 million.

The budget calls for $5.13 million for capital outlay, which is money spent to acquire, maintain or repair assets. Budgeted capital-outlay items include five patrol vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office, one ambulance, one dump truck and interchange lighting at the South Newport exit off Interstate 95.

McGlothlin said $4.8 million of the capital items are Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax-eligible items.

“These items are being housed in the general fund,” she said. “The bulk of funding to cover those, whether it’s the payment of the debt service or purchase it outright, the bulk of what we just saw will come through property taxes, because property taxes are 63 percent of your revenues.”

SPLOST expired in March 2015 after county voters rejected renewing the 1 percent sales tax in November 2014. The special tax will go before voters again this November.

McGlothlin said that if SPLOST passes the commissioners can revisit the budget, identify the SPLOST-eligible capital items and pull them from having to be paid through the general fund.

SPLOST-eligible capital is equivalent to 4.14 mills, based on last year’s digest, McGlothlin said. She added that SPLOST-eligible debt service, $1.8 million, is equivalent to 1.54 mills.

“These are direct impacts to the general fund by not having SPLOST,” McGlothlin said. “If SPLOST does not pass, and the digest does not grow significantly, you will have to make the difficult decision on what to cut or how much to increase the millage.”

Liberty County Board of Commissioners Chairman Donald Lovette said he hopes the digest will not decrease and that what appears to be commercial and residential growth in the community will show on the digest.

Commissioner Eddie Walden said he knows the commissioners beat themselves up on SPLOST but that it’s important to remember projects the board and other local entities thought were needed for the community to grow.

“We knew we needed to have a Justice Center. It went to the voters, and the voters said, ‘Yes, y’all need that.’ We sat in here when the grand jury came in and said, ‘This is what we need,’… and we built that,” he said.

He mentioned other building projects such as the new library, waste-treatment plant and animal control building, as facilities voters wanted to have in the county.

Walden said commissioners have to restore voters’ trust that they will “continue to do the right thing.”

McGlothlin showed a chart of the functional breakdown of services. Public safety is 38 percent of the budget, at $13.24 million, which includes county law enforcement, animal control and fire service. The operation of general government is 19 percent, at $6.9 million.
Seventy-three percent of the spending plan is mandated services.

McGlothlin said mandated services are not self-sustaining. Mandated services include magistrate court, district attorney, county administration and Superior Court. Essential services, such as maintenance, fire protection and EMS, are 25 percent and discretionary services is two percent.

The proposed budget recommendations are based on the best estimates at this time, McGlothlin said. The final budget will be considered for adoption at the commissioners’ meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday.

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