County sales tax dips 12%

Tue, 01/27/2009 - 5:09pm
By: John Munford

Fayette to cut 23 unfilled jobs in 2010 budget; health premiums, take-home cars being targeted

Fayette County employees may be facing some big changes in the coming fiscal year because of a downturn in sales tax revenues.

So far this year, the county has been able to get by despite the economic downturn, thanks in part to a hiring freeze enacted nearly two years ago and other budget cuts taken since then, County Manager Jack Krakeel told the Fayette County Commission at its annual retreat last week.

The coming budget year, which starts in July, is a whole other ballgame, Krakeel said. Staff unveiled a host of potential cost-saving measures, including a potential furlough, changes to the health insurance premium paid by employees and also its take-home car program which will significantly affect the sheriff’s office.

The county is also proposing the elimination of approximately 23 vacant positions, including 17 full-time and five part-time slots. That will result in a savings of $860,000, Holland said.

None of the vacant positions are in public safety, with the exception of one that’s in the marshal’s office, Krakeel said. The county has been filling its public safety positions when they become vacant, said Finance Director Mary Holland.

Krakeel noted that the county has maintained its service levels despite the vacant positions, which is why he is recommending they be done away with.

The county’s projected sales tax collections are down 12 percent through November, with December’s figures from the holiday season not available yet, officials said.

If the sales tax collections end the year down 10 percent, it would cost the county $1 million, for example, Holland said. The county had already budgeted for a figure 3 percent less sales tax revenues than last year, she said.

Even if the sales tax ends up 25 percent short, equalling a $2.5 million hit, the county has a plan to cover that as well, though that scenario is considered “highly unlikely,” Holland said.

The county is expected to end the year in the black without dipping into its cash reserves even if the sales tax dip hits 25 percent, Krakeel added.

Sales and property taxes make up more than 80 percent of the revenues for county government, and property taxes for next year could face a possible 3 percent decrease due to the economic downturn, officials said.

Meanwhile, it is still not clear if the Georgia legislature will release approximately $1.2 million due the county from a program designed to provide tax relief to property owners. That amount is supposed to be transmitted to the county because it equals a credit given to local property owners on their 2008 tax bill.

Commission Chairman Jack Smith said he has heard information that the funds may be reduced or not given back at all. In either case, the county may have to readjust its budget for this year accordingly.

The county is also due an additional $245,000 from the state for a similar credit granted on the fire protection line item on property tax bills.

Recently enacted cost-cutting measures should allow the county to get by without those funds this year if necessary, Holland said.

Smith said he doesn’t want to “re-bill” property owners by sending a new tax bill for last year adjusted to charge residents and business owners for the tax credit.

Krakeel said that last year all departments were instructed to keep their funding level for non-personnel items to remain the same as the year before, and that also helped the county this year, he added.

“We continue to stress to all our staff the need to conserve funds and have very tight controls on expenditures,” Krakeel said, noting that no service cuts had been enacted.

The hiring freeze does not cover public safety personnel as those positions are refilled when they become vacant, Krakeel said.

A mid-year budget review helped identify another $1.6 million in savings for the county, a big chunk of which was transferring the county’s normal asphalt and tack purchases for road repaving to the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for transportation projects, Holland said.

This year the county has instituted a promotions freeze as a way to save funds, officials said. Also in place are travel restrictions, an item that will save approximately $100,000, Holland said.

As for next year, the county is looking at changing its take-home vehicle policy, which costs an estimated $372,000 a year. The majority of those vehicles are for public safety agencies, Holland said.

Should a “worst case” revenue scenario occur next year, a one day a month furlough of county employees would save the county $148,000 a month or $1.7 million a year.

Krakeel said every job in the county will be scrutinized as part of an analysis of the various departments and the goal of next year is to avoid any reduction in service.

Among other cuts Holland is also recommending:

• $3.8 million by delaying all capital projects by one year because there are still 20 ongoing projects to keep staff busy;

• Adding no new vehicles or equipment. The county has 320 vehicles in its fleet; and

• Holding all departments’ non-personnel spending to last year’s levels or lower. This same action was taken last year, Krakeel noted.

There was some good financial news for the county at the retreat. The county is switching to an insurance program for inmates at the jail which will result in a significant savings, perhaps as much as 50 percent of what the county currently pays, Holland said. Currently the county is spending about $700,000 a year in medical care for inmates.

Also the county rebid its property and casualty insurance, resulting in a savings of 50 percent from a year ago, officials said.

The vacant positions recommended for elimination by county staff include 17 full-time and five part-time positions including:

• Eight in general government;

• Three in judicial services;

• One in the marshal’s department;

• Two in public works;

• Two in culture and recreation;

• Five in planning and development including four in the building inspections department and one in the zoning department.

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Submitted by Bill the Cat on Sun, 02/01/2009 - 1:21pm.

Why is it that many counties in our state and across the nation are smart enough to use inmates for some governmental services and Fayette County is not? Inmates are sentenced to jail correct? Why do we allow inmates to just sit in our county jail and watch tv, play cards, checkers, chess, and basketball. They get 3 meals a day, a cell with warm blankets, showers, and medical care. How much are we spending on employees salaries, benefits, and raises just to cut grass, plant flowers, do manual labor on projects that just require sweat and hard work? Other counties use inmates to do such task. They cut the grass at county facilities, parks, ballfields, and government property. They work on grass cutting crews that ride tractors cutting the roadways. They are assigned as manual labor workers on road crews. These are just a few examples where Fayette Co. could take advantage of these people by saving thousands of tax payer dollars and making the inmates work to repay society and not keep free loading. Heck, if i were homeless, I could get 3 squares,a cot, indoor plumbing, a roof over my head, medical care, and entertainment provded by the county just by committing some minor crimes. Please tell me how not hiring one guard to oversee a work detail is not more practical than having entire departments of paid employees. Let use our resources and stop waisting money to pay for simple jobs. Other counties do this, Mr. Commissioners I ask, Why can't Fayette Co. do the same?

Bill the Cat

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