2010-12-09 / Local & State

County 2011 Taxes Unchanged

Commissioners hold bottom line for fifth consecutive year
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz STAFF WRITER

For the fifth consecutive year the Fulton County commissioners have held the bottom line on real estate taxes when preparing the annual county budget that will be formally adopted later this month.

On Tuesday afternoon, Fulton County commissioners Bonnie Mellott Keefer, David Hoover II and Craig Cutchall gave a unanimous nod of approval to the tentative 2011 budget numbering $6,381,181 in revenue and $6,781,737 in expenditures. The $400,556 difference between the two categories is expected to be covered through the use of reserved funds, the commissioners and county business manager Tim Stanton noted in their annual budget summary.

“The county is fortunate to currently have a healthy budget sheet that can absorb the 2011 revenue shortfall of $400,556. In both 2009 and 2010 it was estimated that the budget would need to use fund reserves. However, the county took advantage of cost-saving opportunities as they occurred over the year, and the use of reserves was not needed,” Stanton pointed out.

Along with their yearly announcement, the group was happy to note the real estate tax rate will remain at the current level of 10 mills. Fifty-eight percent of the county’s revenue expected to be generated in the upcoming year stems from taxes.

“The rate of growth in the tax base of Fulton County is low and averages 1.3 percent over the last three years. For 2011, the growth in tax base will contribute only $85,000 to the 2011 budget,” the budget summary states.

The next highest category of income for the county is federal and state operating grants at 21 percent. The remainder of the county’s revenue is divided between prior year surplus, additional reimbursements, service charges and fines that range in the single digits between 2 and 7 percent.

On the flip side, 55 percent of expenditures in 2011 are earmarked for salaries and benefits, which represents a 21 percent increase in benefits due to the need for higher county contributions to the retirement fund. In conjunction with meeting employee needs, Commissioner Keefer reported health insurance contributions continue to rise annually and are expected to jump by 18 percent next year.

“Increases in health insurance costs for the county are mainly a result of demographics and to some extent based on claims’ experience. Both situations are not easily controlled by the county,” said the commissioners in the summary.

The commissioners have also tentatively agreed to boost the annual cost of living (COL) increase from this year’s allotment of 1 percent to 2 percent in 2011 for all nonelected, county employees.

Commissioner Hoover touched on the topic of debt service and noted that particular line item is expected to jump $77,500 as the county is expecting to launch phase three of the ongoing renovation project. Phase three entails the demolition of the probation office, a new facade for the domestic relations office and a new roof for the courthouse. The future of the courthouse pillars and sheriff’s office also remain unclear and could possibly be addressed next year.

According to Keefer, the jail cell portion of the building has already been removed, but the office itself remains without heat. As a result, the county is looking at the possibility of relocating sheriff office staff into a nearby facility. With a new, overhead walkway recently constructed linking the courthouse and existing sheriff’s office, project architects have indicated in the event a new sheriff’s office is constructed it would be compatible with the walkway.

Other expenditures not currently found in the current budget but being considered for 2011 are the purchase of central scan equipment as well as document imaging equipment. The central scan equipment would replace current equipment used on election night in the commissioners’ office and eliminate the need for ballot counting machines at each of the county’s 12 polling locations. The machine has been estimated at $25,000 with a one-year warranty and would eliminate the need for system failures, setup and tear down and high maintenance fees.

Keefer also pointed out the commissioners would rather invest in equipment related to the imaging of important county documents rather than paying for brick and mortar needed to house paperwork. The equipment purchase is hoped to expedite the imaging process that has been ongoing in some county departments this year.

“In order to control costs, department managers were informed that if any 2011 budget expenditure exceeded the 2010 budget level, then justification was needed for the cost increase with appropriate documentation. In addition, all expenditures were compared to a four-year trend with an understanding of variances from those trends,” the commissioners said.

“During 2011 the board of commissioners is committed to continue to look for opportunities to control government costs while maintaining a professional staff that can deliver the services that are needed in Fulton County,” they concluded.

Final adoption of the county budget has been scheduled for 10 a.m. on Wednesday, December 29, following a 20-day period of public inspection.

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