Numbers proposed for Bartow County’s fiscal year 2019 budget are slightly lower than last year’s, coming in at about $125.5 million as opposed to FY 2018’s $127.3 million operating budget.
Under the FY 2019 operating budget proposal, the county general fund is set at $81.1 million, representing a roughly $2 million increase over FY 2018’s department spending.
As in years past, the three highest-budgeted departments are the sheriff’s office ($24.8 million for FY 2019, compared to $23 million for FY 2018), the county fire department ($12.3 million in FY 2019, compared to $10.4 million for FY 2018) and the county roads department ($8.5 million in FY 2019, compared to $7.7 million for FY 2018.)
With the county’s ambulance services now privatized, the budgeting for emergency management and emergency medical services went from slightly over $5 million for the FY 2018 budget to zero in FY 2019.
“It knocked probably $2.5 million out of revenue, but probably knocked $4.5 million out of the expense side,” Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson said of the switchover to MetroAtlanta Ambulance Service. “Some of that we’ve redeployed to improving emergency response with the fire department. We’ve got two of the fire stations that are now Basic Life Support-certified, meaning there’s EMTs on the truck, and they’ve developed a program where they’re going to be training more and more of the firemen up to an EMT standard … when that fire truck gets there, that’s just like an ambulance arriving, other than they can’t transport patients.”
Enterprise funds have also been reduced, declining from $36.7 million in FY 2018 to an estimated $32.8 million in the proposed 2019 budget. That’s largely due to a substantial decrease in funding for water department capital projects — tabbed at $11.8 million last year but listed as just $4.8 million for FY 2019.
“They had several big projects on their capital list last year, not all of which they got too,” Olson said. “One of them was that big water tank at Highland 75, so that project is getting completed. The Euharlee sewer was on there last year, that project got completed … this year, they’ve just got smaller projects — water extension stuff, they’ll begin the Old Alabama Road relocation work, things like that.”
The 2019 operating budget does entail a slight uptake in solid waste fund expenses — climbing from $5.3 million to $5.8 million — as well as a notable increase in water department operational costs. While funding last year was $17.8 million, in 2019 the proposed budget is $20.1 million.
“There’s just continued growth in the system,” Olson said. “There’s more sales and more expenses as the system picks up customers and grows.”
Special revenue funds — which includes things like E-911, hotel-motel and juvenile supervision fees funds — are almost unchanged from last year, increasing slightly from $4.3 million to $4.5 million. Special revenue funds stemming from offices other than the county commissioner — which includes an inmate welfare fund and miscellaneous confiscation funds — are also set to go up moderately, increasing from $673,497 to $879,490.
Nor is there much of a shift in debt services funding. That’s expected to rise about $200,000, increasing from $6.05 million last year to $6.202 million in FY 2019.
“We’re getting through the end of the last SPLOST, which means we’ll be retiring the rest of a bunch of debt,” Olson said. “A lot of the SPLOST was devoted to paying off debts that were incurred with the development of the Highland 75 industrial park, so we paid off a $15 million note that was used to buy the land and we’re finishing paying off $12 million worth of bonds that were done to do water and sewer improvements out there and provide all the infrastructure necessary for that park to function as an industrial park.”
As for revenue sources to pay off the proposed FY 2019 expenses, Olson said he doesn’t anticipate any new funding streams coming online — that is, presuming proposed state legislation seeking the establishment of new "communications service taxes" fail to make any headway underneath the Gold Dome in Atlanta.
Regardless, Olson said county income remains steady — if not higher than anticipated.
“We’ve seen some nice increases in the hotel/motel revenue, that industry seems to be doing very well,” he said. “We had about a 10 percent growth in our sales tax this year. It was about 7 percent the year before that, so that was extremely healthy, better than we expected.”
The county budget hovered around $104 million throughout the early 2010s, climbing to $111 million in 2014 before dropping to $105 million in 2016. The county budget rose to $119 million in 2017 and — pending the proposed 2019 FY budget is approved as is — has been north of $120 million the last two fiscal years.
The county, Olson said, will begin planning 2020 SPLOST projects later this year. Candidates likely to be at the front of the line include a proposal to construct a parking deck behind the county annex building, as well as “a good bit more paving and striping” throughout the county’s roadways.
“The commissioner said that we’re not looking to borrow against this next SPLOST, we’re looking to more pay as we go, so that will give us more flexibility,” he said. “Now, when the monthly SPLOST comes in, most of it is devoted to paying back those other project debts, so the next SPLOST in a year, there’s no debt commitments on that.”
From an economic perspective, Olson said the county finds itself “in a very strong position” heading into the 2019 fiscal year.
“We’ve landed a lot of jobs and industry in the last five or six years and our employment base has grown from 30,000 to 38,000, in terms of jobs in the county,” he said. “And the average wages have gone up about 15 percent or 18 percent in the same time — that’s been a big goal of the commissioner, both to have more jobs and more higher-paying jobs.”
A public hearing on the proposed 2019 operating budget is scheduled Jan. 30 at 10 a.m. at the Frank Moore Administration and Judicial Center, 135 West Cherokee Ave. in Cartersville. Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor will vote to adopt the proposed budget at a public meeting scheduled at the same location at 10 a.m on Feb. 6.