The Liberty County Commission received a proposed 2015 budget that is lower than the current year's spending plan Tuesday evening at its regular meeting.
2015 budget hearing
Chief Financial Officer Kim McGlothlin presented the board with a proposed budget of $25,929,042 for fiscal year 2015, a decrease of $379,711 from FY 2014. Commissioners will vote on the budget at their June 19 meeting.
A major portion of the decline in revenue — $192,931 — results from the loss of prisoner-housing fees, which Chatham County now collects due to its expanded prison capacity. Penalties and interest collections are down $115,000 from last year, and another $100,000 loss in revenue stems from decreased general sales-and-use-tax income (SPLOST). Property taxes account for 58 percent of the county’s revenue, while SPLOST funds make up 14 percent.
or longevity raises. She also stressed that the budget does not include provisions for justice center bond payments or public-safety vehicles if SPLOST does not pass in November.
Discussion then turned to property tax collections. District 1 Commissioner Marion Stevens asked about the current tax-collection rate. McGlothlin said that because the tax commissioner is 2-1/2 months behind on remitting property-tax information, she was unable to cite a current collection rate; however, she was hopeful that the rate would be around 94-95 percent by the end of June.
McGlothlin then explained that although last year saw an increase in gross digest, the number of exemptions outpaced the growth, causing a net decrease in the digest. The board confirmed that 26 exemptions are available in Liberty County — more than several surrounding counties allow.
Commission Chairman Donald Lovette stressed that when the digest comes in under its projected amount, the commission “goes back to the drawing board.”
“The public needs to know that the lion’s share of that burden has been borne by persons who report directly to (County Administrator Joey Brown),” Lovette said. “Constitutional officers have their own budget, and when they send their budget, they’re telling us that they’re asking for what they need.”
Fleming resident Neil Clark voiced concern over property-tax assessments and the seemingly high number of exemptions in Liberty County.
“My property’s value went down three years in a row,” Clark said. “And this year, it went up 259 percent on one piece of property.”
Clark expressed frustration over the appeal process, saying that exemptions can fluctuate from year to year.
“When my bill says my property is worth $1 million, it needs to be worth $1 million. No exemptions — it’s calculated, period,” he said.
County Administrator Joey Brown explained that exemptions are set by state legislators, not by the board of commissioners. He also said that the board of assessors is separated, by law, from the assessment function.
Commissioners split on road-projects bid
Some disagreement arose among board members concerning a bid for repairs along Holmestown Road. County engineer Trent Long informed the board that he received a bid from Ellis Wood Contracting for the project in the amount of $109,007.20. However, the contractor neglected to properly document good-faith efforts mandated by the Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBE) ordinance, which the board recently adopted.
Long’s recommendation was to re-bid the project, along with a similar bid for Waymaker Drive repairs, with the stipulation of a mandatory pre-bid conference for all contractors to ensure compliance with MWBE ordinance regulations.
District 6 Commissioner Eddie Walden said that re-bidding the project may result in a higher bid and suggested approving the current bid, even though it was not in full compliance with the ordinance. District 5 Commissioner Gary Gilliard disagreed with Walden’s recommendation.
“They need to adhere to the policy regardless of the dollar amount,” Gilliard said.
Stevens made a motion to approve the bid. The motion was passed by a majority vote of 4-3, with Lovette, Gilliard and District 2 Commissioner Justin Frasier opposing.
• Joey Patenaude of the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission presented a variance request on behalf of a resident wanting to install a new shed on his property. The board approved the request.
• David Floyd, director of the Liberty County Family Connection, presented a bid for the Summer Food Service Program. The board approved the bid for $2.95 per lunch.
• The board unanimously approved renewal of the Hinesville Area Arts Council’s lease agreement.
• The board approved several committee/council applications, the majority of which were re-appointments.