Stephens Co. Presents Proposed Budget for FY 2014

Stephens County presents its proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget.

County Administrator Phyllis Ayers presented the proposed budget during Tuesday’s commission meeting.

The proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget totals about $16.5 million for all funds and $12.9 million for the general fund. Both of those numbers are down from the Fiscal Year 2013 budget.

The budget calls for no change in the millage rate and assumes a four percent drop in property tax revenue due to a decreasing tax digest.

A main point of discussion in the proposed budget was the Development Authority line item.

The proposed budget included no funding for the Stephens County Development Authority, as Ayers said the Development Authority has fund balance to cover them for the year ahead.

Stephens County Commissioner Dean Scarborough said he does not think it is right to provide no money to the Development Authority.

“I understand the fund balance being there for the Development Authority, but on the other hand, I do not like the fact that something is not funded and I would like for us to look at least putting $50,000 into this year’s budget for the Development Authority,” said Scarborough.

County Commissioner Dennis Bell asked Development Authority Executive Director Tim Martin about how many prospects the county has had, how many have located in Stephens County, and why others are not coming here.

According to Martin, there were 24 prospects in 2012 that resulted in 1 location and 8 prospects so far this year that have resulted in 2 locations.

As for why businesses are not coming here, Martin says a multitude of factors come into play.

One reason, he said, is that Stephens County is rated as a Tier 3 county in Georgia from an economic perspective.

Martin said that means Stephens County does not have access to certain tax credits that neighboring counties do.

“There are 159 counties. You just rack and stack all of them,” said Martin. “We fall in that Tier 3 category. Our neighboring counties, Hart County, Franklin County, Habersham County, are lower-tier (and) have more access to the state incentives than we have.”

Scarborough added that the county has seen some economic success in recent years, such as the locations of GM Wood Products and Crown Resources in the county, and an expansion at GEM Southeast.

County commissioners agreed to provide the Development Authority with $50,000 in Fiscal Year 2014, which will come out of fund balance.

Elsewhere in the budget, Ayers said that full-time county employees would receive a $300 raise this year and part-time employees would get a $100 raise under the proposed budget.

“How that is done is we took the (total) value of one percent (pay raise) and we divided that by the number of employees so that the lower-bracketed personnel will receive a little over one percent increase and the higher-bracketed would be less than one percent,” said Ayers.

In addition, there are no employee furlough days in the proposed county budget.

Ayers did say that one employee’s position in data management was eliminated, while a full-time probationer was cut to part-time. The county is adding a part-time position in the probate judge’s office.

In addition, the budgets for the county’s constitutional officers avoided further cuts after those officers told county commissioners last week that they could not cut their budgets anymore.

The county is using about $1.1 million in available fund balance to cover costs this year. That leaves less than $400,000 in available fund balance moving forward.

Scarborough said that if things do not improve quickly, next year’s budget will be extremely difficult.

“In the next 12 months, we have got to realize that the current government we have is unsustainable based on the amount of revenue that we have,” said Scarborough. “We are going to have to make some serious cuts continually through the next year.”

The proposed Fiscal Year 2014 county budget is on display in the historic Stephens County Courthouse and will soon be up on the county’s website.

The county commission is expected to hold a second reading on the budget and take a vote at its next meeting on June 25.