Columbia County budget cuts required

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With more than six months to go before a new fiscal year starts, Columbia County officials already are looking to trim 5 percent from the budget.

On Tuesday, commissioners approved sending a memo to department heads and division directors asking them to cut their budgets for the next fiscal year based on the expectation of a 5 percent loss in revenues.

"The grim financial situation in the nation is being reflected in the exceedingly low growth of the tax digest and the decline in sales tax revenues in Columbia County," according to the memo.

About $15.5 million of the county's $56.5 million general fund was expected to come from the sales tax. However, those revenues are down 5.06 percent compared to last year, county Finance Director Leanne DeLoach said. Earlier in the year, sales tax revenues were down by as much as 7.84 percent.

A new state law imposing a three-year moratorium on raising property values through reassessments also hampers the county's ability to increase property tax revenues without increasing the millage rate.

"When you're losing revenues, your only choices are to cut expenses or raise taxes," Deputy Administrator Scott Johnson said. "We're not going to raise taxes."

Commission Chairman Ron Cross said he and his colleagues are dedicated to working within a balanced budget without further burdening property owners.

Commissioners are asking directors and managers to employ "zero based" budgeting, meaning officials must go through all line items in their budgets to find cuts.

Suggestions for savings in the memo include eliminating nonessential programs, deferring capital expenses, eliminating nonessential vacant positions and delaying hiring.

Departments that receive money through the general fund should "anticipate no new hires unless other expenses are reduced," according to the memo.

Numerous positions already have been eliminated since the 2008-09 fiscal year, including three in the Columbia County Library.

Constitutional officers, including the sheriff and tax commissioner, have added positions since last fiscal year, but officials said the hires were necessary so those departments can keep up with growth.

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT

Planning for new budgets typically starts in January; officials intend to further discuss budget woes Jan. 12. Elected officials, division directors and department heads are expected to attend.

POSITIONS ELIMINATED SINCE 2008

Department - Number Cut - Savings

Engineering - 1 - $127,596

Maintenance - 1 - $121,362

Planning - 1 - $54,484

Human resources - 1 - $45,349

Finance - 1 - $30,411

Libraries* - 3 - $153,344

Recreation - 1 - $28,950

Roads and Bridges - 1 - $83,398

Total - 10 - $644,894

POSITIONS ADDED SINCE 2008

Department - Number Added - Cost

Tax Assessor - 1 - $38,807

Libraries* - 1 - $35,201

Senior Center - 1 - $59,933

Tax Commissioner - 1 - $31,927

Magistrate Court - 1 - $49,596

Superior Court - 1 - $25,259

Clerk of Court - 3 - $104,009

Sheriff's Office - 10 - $400,439

Total - 19 - $745,171

*The Columbia County Library created a new position in the 2008-09 fiscal year, but three were eliminated at the libraries the following fiscal year.

Comments (17) Add comment
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caresabouththecounty
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caresabouththecounty 12/23/09 - 08:05 am
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If they turned the tennis

If they turned the tennis court lights off in the winter time I'm sure it would help. Why are the lights on so long anyway. Evan during the summer the lights are on and no one is out there. How about a timer with a key pad and you get a keycode from the rec. dept to turn on the lights if you want to play during the summer at night, Otherwise turn the things off.

mawtnez
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mawtnez 12/23/09 - 08:52 am
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If you are referring to the

If you are referring to the court lights at Patriot's Park, replacing the switches with timer switches (like most other tennis courts use) would resolve that problem. Maximum loss would be 1 hour after the players leave.

Goaliemom1987
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Goaliemom1987 12/23/09 - 08:59 am
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In the Columbia County news

In the Columbia County news they just had a article on how many people received raises,when other county employees are having to take furlough days...How is this fair?

USA4Life
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USA4Life 12/23/09 - 09:31 am
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Goaliemom it is because Ron

Goaliemom it is because Ron Cross takes care of his friends and could care less about the rest of the county. I think all those raises should go back and then refigure the budget. Also, the county has to many Police officers doing to little. I think we could do without 1 or 2.

soldout
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soldout 12/23/09 - 09:34 am
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There are some smart people

There are some smart people in Columbia county government who will figure it out. If a family can cut it's budget 5% so can a county. Everyone has to adjust to the business cycle that will never go away. Columbia county does suffer financially from what I think was a poor decision of voting in alcohol. There was a blessing in being a dry county and that has gone away. In most cases the society cost of alcohol is 8 dollars for every dollar it brings in with taxes. The Bible says the curse without a cause does not come. We can keep the blessings God provides or we can vote them away.

condor121
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condor121 12/23/09 - 11:12 am
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LOL, you mean to tell me that

LOL, you mean to tell me that in the summer of 2009 (almost a year after we started our national recession) Columbia County officials (Ron Cross) DIDNT think there would be a DECREASE in sales tax revenue AND he also DIDNT know there would be a DECREASE in the property tax revenue due to the state legislature passing a freeze on property tax values???? What kind of circus is he running?? I can't believe the CCNT or Augusta Chronicle didn't call out the county for passing a budget that equaled the same amount as in 2008......is this how a TRUE Republican government is run???? Where are the REAL conservatives???? It's a little late to trim the budget, Mr. Cross, you should have done that BEFORE passing it!!!

naturehazard
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naturehazard 12/23/09 - 12:16 pm
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Why are we spending $3

Why are we spending $3 million on a new jail? That's pretty expensive if you ask me.

naturehazard
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naturehazard 12/23/09 - 12:16 pm
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We need to vote these bums

We need to vote these bums out of office.

leoswife
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leoswife 12/23/09 - 01:08 pm
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I'm sure turning off tennis

I'm sure turning off tennis court lights is really going to make a big deal! I'm pretty sure that the jail is a SPLOST project that was voted on by the citizens of Columbia County-- if you voted no to it then you lost! USA4Life--the number of deputies is based on population so the more people that live here the more deputies are needed. What county employees have been furloughed--I haven't seen that in any articles. If you read the article above then you would know that they are trimming the budget for next year, not the current budget. We are blessed to live in a county that is safe, clean and provides good schools for the children. I'm glad they are cutting expenses and not raising taxes!

naturehazard
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naturehazard 12/23/09 - 02:41 pm
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loeos wife. Every area in CC

loeos wife. Every area in CC is not safe, clean, and provides a good school. Every county in the CSRA has safe and clean areas. That provide good schools for the children. What else do we have? Im still waiting on the town center.

naturehazard
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naturehazard 12/23/09 - 05:18 pm
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No reply?

No reply?

leoswife
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leoswife 12/23/09 - 05:43 pm
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No place is perfect. There

No place is perfect. There are always people who complain about everything!

TCB22
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TCB22 12/23/09 - 07:01 pm
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Not complaining, but I don't

Not complaining, but I don't understand the logic of holding a special called meeting three days before Christmas to announce cuts that need to be made in July?

corgimom
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corgimom 12/23/09 - 09:27 pm
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Forget about a national

Forget about a national recession, CC has declining revenue because they sell alcohol. Got it. I guess the other times when CC had revenue problems, when they didn't sell liquor, that was because of- what?

corgimom
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corgimom 12/23/09 - 09:30 pm
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$3 million for a new jail is

$3 million for a new jail is a bargain. Jails are very expensive to build and maintain. And yes, preparing a county budget is very time-consuming. Six months is a very reasonable time, because it has to be presented, questioned, and approved, and that takes a long time. Longer than that, the projections are too unreliable, shorter than that, there isn't enough time to prepare it.

TCB22
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TCB22 12/23/09 - 10:18 pm
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So, it couldn't wait a week

So, it couldn't wait a week until the regular meeting was scheduled? A special meeting had to be called three days before Christmas? That just doesn't make sense. How many people do you think are working on the budget this week? It's Christmas. Someone just blundered on this one.

jbartley
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jbartley 12/23/09 - 11:28 pm
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The only friends Ron Cross

The only friends Ron Cross has left as supporters are county department head's and he gave them a 2% raise last week. Most of the business owners in CC have left Crooked Cross! It is time to kick him out of the county!

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