Columbia County government officials got their marching orders Tuesday as they begin to prepare next year’s budget.
While the upcoming budget likely will be flat compared to this year’s $56 million budget, with the tax digest remaining stable, there are areas of concern as county departments and elected officials prepare for the next fiscal year, commission Chairman Ron Cross said.
In his annual budget address, before the Management and Financial Services Committee meeting, Cross said there are three areas that lend uncertainty to the process: the new method of computing vehicle taxes; insurance changes from the federal Affordable Health Care Act; and pent-up demand for new personnel.
The vehicle tax change, which Cross called “terribly confusing and terribly complex,” likely will affect the county’s personnel numbers, too.
The change, which eventually will eliminate the “birthday tax” on vehicle owners, still hasn’t been fully explained by state officials, said Columbia County Tax Commissioner Kay Allen – but she’s sure she’ll need more people on her staff to implement it.
“They’ve already told us that, because we’ve got to educate each taxpayer on their particular vehicle … it is going to add a minimum of 10 minutes per person,” she said, cutting in half the number of customers each tag clerk can handle each hour..
In addition to the need for more personnel, county officials are uncertain about how the tax change will affect county coffers.
“It’s difficult for me to understand how this program is neutral over the long haul,” Cross said.
Officials also are uncertain about the toll new federal health care mandates will have on the county’s budget.
The county’s elected officials and division directors have a deadline of March 1 to make requests for additional personnel and capital expenditures, Johnson said, and are expected to turn in their budgets by March 8. Work sessions with county commissioners will follow, with final budget approval planned for the commission’ s first June meeting.