Seventeen full-time and two part-time new positions across multiple departments and merit-pay raises for most employees are the major drivers of a proposed $2 million General Fund increase that Barrow County officials pitched to county commissioners this week.
During a called board of commissioners meeting Monday, May 17, county manager Kevin Little and chief financial officer Rose Kisaalita presented commissioners with a proposed $45.1 million General Fund for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2022, which represents a 9.9-percent increase over the $40.6 million General Fund originally approved for FY2021 and a 4.5-percent increase over the revised $43 million budget that was bolstered by the addition of federal coronavirus pandemic-relief money and higher-than-anticipated sales-tax collections over the last year.
Kisaalita said county officials have budgeted conservatively for sales-tax revenues with the anticipation that, as vaccinations continue and pandemic conditions continue to improve, more people in the county will return to commuting out of the county for work and will be spending less locally.
The new positions across multiple departments are projected to have a $785,949 impact on the General Fund, while the performance-based pay raises, which will range from 0-5 percent, are projected to cost $155,738. The merit raises do not apply to constitutional officers and elected officials nor employees in the sheriff’s office and detention center, but sheriff’s office and detention center employees would receive a 1.8-percent pay raise ($191,326 impact) and a combined total of $105,722 in additional pay adjustments to guard against salary compression.
Other projected hikes in the General Fund included a 3-percent increase in health-insurance costs ($317,154 over the current fiscal year), 7-percent increase in general liability coverage premiums ($236,691) and 10-percent increase in required ACCG retirement contributions ($257,259), according to the figures presented Monday.
Along with the General Fund, county officials have proposed a $9.9 million water and sewerage fund, $7.8 million fire fund, $1.9 million planning and community development fund, $1.8 million E-911 fund and a $1.4 million stormwater fund.
Officials are expected to make tweaks to the proposed budget that were recommended by commissioners Monday and present a revised balanced budget at the board’s work session scheduled for May 25. From there, a public hearing on the budget and a vote on final adoption would be held next month ahead of the start of the new fiscal year, July 1.
While chairman Pat Graham said she had concerns about adding 17 new full-time positions, there were no proposals from the board to eliminate any specific ones, and the staffing levels are likely to be approved as presented.
Putting more money into improving the county’s network of roads was a huge talking point among commissioners with Graham recommending that the county move $2.5 million from reserves to bulk up the county’s spending on road work.
“We’ve tried every year to resurface an appropriate number of roads to get caught up, but we haven’t really gotten caught up and maybe we’ve slipped further behind,” Graham said. “The longer (some of the roads in the county) are neglected, the higher the cost to the taxpayers. If we don’t start on this, we’ll never get there.”
The county is slated to receive $16 million over the next couple of years through the latest round of federal stimulus money from the American Rescue Plan, which officials have said would likely be targeted at addressing infrastructure costs, though specific parameters for how the money can and can’t be spent haven’t been released yet.
Also Monday, commissioners discussed the need to balance what is currently projected as an $884,000 deficit in the Fire Fund. The fund is getting a large increase due to a proposed agreement that would transition ambulance-transport service around the county from Barrow County Emergency Services to Northeast Georgia Health System. County officials have proposed retaining the more than 40 EMS employees and transferring them under the Fire Fund while reassigning them to fire shifts.
Commissioners agreed that BCES officials would need to reevaluate their list of proposed capital-improvement projects for FY2022 and that the county may need to increase the fire millage rate. But even if a fire millage hike occurred, projected drops in the economic development and general obligation bond repayment millage rates would largely negate the impact on taxpayers, Graham said.
Commissioners agreed they would prefer to “roll back” the maintenance and operations millage rates, which would mean the county would need only one required public hearing on the budget.
Kisaalita said the public hearing will be scheduled for June 8 and the board will likely vote to approve a final budget June 22.