Madison County commissioners plan to roll back their tax rates slightly in 2014, but the group may also need to dig into county cash reserves to balance the 2015 budget.
The board of commissioners has heard budget requests from county department heads and constitutional officer in recent weeks, with many asking for pay increases for their employees. However, the BOC has yet to finalize a budget and will meet again Aug. 20 and 22 at 9 a.m. both days in the county government complex.
As of this week, the 2015 budget includes an approximate $1.1 million shortfall between projected revenues ($13.1 million) and expenses ($14.28 million).
The county’s digest, its overall property value, is up slightly this year, which means the board would bring in increased property tax revenues if it leaves its tax rates the same as last year. By law, this would require three public hearings and advertisements to announce a tax increase. The school board is keeping its tax rate steady this year and is holding hearings to announce a tax increase due to the slight digest increase.
But the BOC plans to roll back tax rates for incorporated (within cities) and unincorporated (outside of cities) to slightly reduce its projected income from local taxes, from $6,64,159 last year to $6,558,771 this year. Tax bills are expected to go out in October and be due some time in December. This year’s tax revenue will be used to fund next year’s county budget.
County commission chairman Anthony Dove said Monday that board members will face a decision on how much to cut out of projected expenses and how much to pull from reserves to balance the budget. He said balancing a $1.1 million shortfall would require massive cuts and perhaps elimination of departments. The board has faced this outlook several times in recent years and decided each time to pull from county cash reserves to balance the budget.
He said the county won’t have a clear picture of projected reserves until October, but he estimated that the county would have roughly $3 million left in reserves if it pulled just over $1 million out of the reserves this year to balance the 2015 budget.
Dove noted that the county has traditionally aligned its cost-of-living raises with the state. This year, the Georgia government reinstated a one-percent raise for its employees. That means Madison County’s constitutionally elected officers must receive that raise by law. So, the county government has always provided the same for its employees, instead of giving that required raise just to elected officials and not workers. That one-percent employee pay increase is factored into the projected 2015 budget.