“Nobody wants to touch the budget,” Vice Chair Emma Darnell said after a presentation by Assistant Director of Finance Sharon Whitmore, when a vote failed for lack of a second. “We’re not making any statements today as a board.”
The general fund budget, which pays for the county’s operating expenses, is nearly 10 percent higher than in fiscal 2013 but with no property tax hike.
The millage rate remains at 10.281, as it has since fiscal 2007.
The budget has “no funding for pay increases,” Whitmore said.
It also does not contain an across-the-board cut, although various departments have been asked to see if they could trim as much as 10 percent, she said.
Whitmore conducted a slide presentation on proposed expenditures and cuts developed by a three-person budget committee consisted of County Manager Dwight Ferrell, Chief Financial Officer Patrick O’Connor and county Chairman John Eaves, who was absent.
Darnell cautioned against cutting too deeply into payments like those to Grady Hospital, which may be reduced by half from last year’s $50 million.
“It seems we’re trying to reach our goals on the backs of our most vulnerable populations,” she said.
Future discussions may take place during the next meeting or during one or more separate work sessions to address reductions and consider alternatives, Whitmore said.
But they will take place soon.
The new fiscal year starts Jan. 1.
“We need a tentative budget for our second meeting in December for advertising purposes,” Whitmore said about legal requirements to give advance notice so members of the public may have an opportunity to comment.
Ferrell acknowledged the budget will go through several changes before the commissioners’ deciding vote in January.
“I realize the final budget will be different,” he said.
Commissioner William “Bill” Edwards noted the $50 million south Fulton special district budget is separate from the general fund.
“Cutting back on services is not related to south Fulton. We’re not cutting anything,” he said.
Whitmore said the district earned $2 million more than expected in revenue in fiscal 2013 but its 2014 expenses will eat away at its savings, leaving $500,000 in emergency funds.
Looking down the road, next steps for future budget cycles may include:
n hiring an economist to help plan short- and long-term strategies to lessen the county’s dependence on property taxes
n looking into outsourcing and privatization for transportation, landscaping, and arts and fitness program instructors
n restructuring and streamlining departments like human resources and accounting to create a more centralized model.
“We want to be more consistent and efficient in everything we do,” Whitmore said.