Friday, December 14, 2001

Learn about the budget it's your money

County Commission Chairman

It's December in Fulton County, and we all know what that means - football, family get togethers, and budget negotiations at the Fulton County Government Center.

In many ways, this will be the most important budget cycle that I have been a part of. The nation, and Georgia, is in the midst of a recession. And while I am confident that the economy will right itself, no one can say when the recovery will take place.

The state of Georgia, city of Atlanta, and Dekalb County are considering drastic budget cuts and tax increases as they begin the 2002 budget process.

In that way, Fulton County is ahead of the game. Because Fulton County has slowed the rate of spending, uses a five-year budget plan, and requires fiscal notes on the continued costs of building new capital projects, financially, Fulton County is sound.

This is a far cry from when I took office in 1999, when Fulton County was facing an $80 million budget shortfall.

The budget that I, as chairman of the Budget Commission, presented to the Board of Commissioners last week provides for a modest 5 percent increase in spending (mainly caused by inflation and population growth).

While I personally would like to see a change in priorities in some areas of county spending, I am limited by the political realities of the board.

So, I am very pleased that we are not considering service cuts, layoffs or tax increases that many other governments are contemplating. Simply put, this budget is a continuation of the sound financial planning of the past three years - planning that has slowed down the growth of spending and left the county with three straight years (including 2001) of surpluses and a significant fund balance.

Unfortunately, the presentation of the Budget Commission's proposed budget is not the end of the budget process; it is the very beginning.

Over the next month and a half, the Board of Commissioners will be working on the budget considering new spending measures, increases in some departments and cuts in others. Remember, it only takes four votes to change the budget that I have proposed.

My great fear is that the rest of the board, in a flurry of election year spending, will put Fulton County in jeopardy, just as it did before I took office in 1998. And what that means to you is this: any significant increases in spending and capital projects now will cause service cuts or tax increases down the road.

Already, there are rumors of nearly $30 million of additional "pet projects" that the commissioners want to "deliver" in the form of new services or costly capital projects. The truth is that, given the financial landscape we are currently in, we cannot afford to go one a spending spree with the taxpayers' dollars, whether it's an election year or not. It would be foolish and irresponsible.

I urge you to follow the budget process. I will be sending out periodic updates on the budget process. Due to prudent financial planning the last three years, we do not have to make cuts or raise taxes this year.

Hopefully, we won't have to in the years to come.

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