Originally created 04/08/06

State seeks county help



As the state budget tightens, more state agencies are coming to the Columbia County Commission with their hands out, county officials said.

County Administrator Steve Szablewski said the University of Georgia Extension Service, state health department, Georgia Forestry Service, even a federal soil conservation group, all have approached the county, asking for budget supplements.

"Those are just a few of the ones I can think of off the top of my head," Mr. Szablewski said. "I'm going to have to go through the budget to make a comprehensive list."

The commission has often provided supplements to state agencies located within county borders in years past, but the number of agencies and the amounts they're seeking seem to be increasing, Commission Chairman Ron Cross said.

"I think it's going to get progressively worse as budgets get tighter and tighter," he said.

To get a grip on the amount in supplements being asked of the commission, officials plan to hold a special budget session to discuss the topic.

Mr. Cross hopes to hold the meeting next week, but Mr. Szablewski said it might take his staff longer to compile a list of agencies wanting extra cash.

Mr. Szablewski isn't sure how much money the commission can afford to dole out in supplements.

"It's difficult for a county to supplement state employees," he said. "If the state can't afford to do it, how can a county afford to do it?"

However, Mr. Cross said some agencies, such as the board of health, are deserving of county funds, because they provide a needed service to its residents.

"We're going to take a good, hard look at it and maybe talk with our legislative delegation," he said. "We'll see if it's to the county's benefit to take county funds to operate a state agency."

While Mr. Szablewski agrees that some state agencies are deserving of funding, he said the county might be limited in the support it can provide by its own coffers.

"These are all worthwhile, good people, and they probably deserve what they're asking for," he said. "It's just a question of can we afford to pay it and still not raise the millage rate?"

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 109, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.