Columbia County budget talks continue

Columbia County commissioners continued today to tweak a proposed 2009-10 budget.

The $56.97 million proposed budget represents just a 0.28 percent increase from the current fiscal plan.

New elements to the budget that were changed from initial proposals include adding $15,000 to compensate commissioners for travel miles, a decrease from 4 percent to 2 percent for employee merit raises, the elimination of a $100,000 e-mail archiving system, and an approximate $8,000 reduction for the county’s Development Authority.

Deputy Administrator Scott Johnson told commissioners the 2 percent raises will be tied to employee performance evaluations. The most high-performing employee may receive 2 percent. Less stellar employees will receive smaller pay increases.

“Not everybody will get a 2 percent raise,” Mr. Johnson said.

In charitable giving, the commission is considering adding a $25,000 gift to support the Augusta Kroc Center. Last year, those funds were earmarked for the Fisher House, but it was a one-time gift.

With the help of board members from Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue, county officials managed to eliminate about $507,000 from the proposed budget.

The savings was possible by Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue agreeing to limit merit raises to 2 percent and reducing its operating expenses by $65,000.

Though raises will be limited, county officials likely will pay to hire more personnel.

The sheriff’s office is requesting $6,240 for a school crossing guard, Water Utility wants to hire two new employees at a cost of about $70,000, and 911 needs four employees for about $134,000.

Clerk of Court Cindy Mason had requested $104,000 to hire three new employees, but that cost might be less as she now intends to phase in those new hires as the fiscal year proceeds.

Another factor that might affect the budget between now and the time commissioners are scheduled to approve it, June 2, is a reexamination of the county’s share for funding the Augusta Judicial Circuit Superior Court.

The three counties in the circuit – Columbia, Richmond and Burke – currently fund Superior Court based on a population model. Officials might examine a new funding model based on caseload or an average of the two.

Commissioners intend to further discuss the budget during a May 19 meeting.

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