Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson said residents shouldn’t expect the millage rate to go up to pay for expenses in the proposed $125.5 million fiscal year 2019 operating budget.
“We feel comfortable with the growth of the digest, the sales tax revenue’s been healthy, so we don’t see any problem meeting this budget without asking for any increased millage,” he said at a public hearing Wednesday.
Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor did not take any actions on agenda items at the meeting, which largely revolved around the specifics of the FY 2019 budget — which is about $2 million lighter than last year's budget. Olson delved a little deeper into the proposal, in particular the subject of planned departmental expenditures.
"The water department budget is about 50 percent smaller, maybe 60 percent smaller because they’ve completed the Euharlee Road sewer project and completed most of the Highland 75 tank,” he said.
Bartow County Water and Sewer Department Superintendent Gene Camp said about $200,000 in work remains to complete the water tower tank project at the industrial park off Cass-White Road.
“The most significant increase was to fire,” Olson said. “We got the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant from the federal government, so we’ve got additional revenue but the expenditure budget had to go up to cover it. The feds are going to fund six firefighters for two years and then we also approved three additional firefighters — you need three firefighters to staff one 24-hour position, so we’ve added one position to the Folsom fire station, which had one full-time firefighter, now it’ll have two.”
Continuing, Olson said the six SAFER-funded fire department personnel will staff a heavy rescue truck the county ordered last year, which is dedicated to responding to structure fires and other large incidents throughout Bartow.
“It will increase the manpower, the tools and the resources that get on the scene of a major accident or a fire,” Olson said. “So their budget went up about 18 percent.”
With the county’s emergency medical response services now privatized, Olson said the county is saving about $4.5 million. “Some of that’s been reinvested,” he said. “They’re also investing in EMS training … we’ve got two trucks that are Basic Life Support-certified now at Fire Stations No. 4 and No. 8 and they have a long term plan to get all the trucks certified, so basically when the trucks arrive on the scene they’re essentially an ambulance, other than the fact they can’t transport patients.”
At $81.1 million, the proposed FY 2019 general fund budget is about 2 percent larger than FY 2018’s departmental expenditures.
“There’s the usual increases we see in insurance costs, pensions — we budget for a 2 percent step increase for employees, provided things go good,” Olson said. “Most of the rest of the other funds are very similar to last year. There’s been some growth in hotel/motel and there should be some growth in the 911 fund because of the new law that will put the same charge on prepaid phones as on regular cell phones … that’s helping in terms of making 911 self-supporting.”
The proposed budget, Olson said, also increases the county road department budget for paving and striping.
“As gas prices relate to asphalt prices, it’s about $100,000 a mile to repave a road,” he said. “So with 850 miles of road, obviously it's an expensive process to try to keep on top of those — we look forward to the new SPLOST, being able to devote additional funds to paving.”
He said the county is on pace to completely pay off its 2014 SPLOST bond by March of next year. “So we won’t have any long-term general obligation debt,” Olson said.
The county is also interested in purchasing about 21 new light duty vehicles as well a few pieces of heavy equipment, such as a new bulldozer for the county’s solid waste department. Altogether, Olson said the vehicular expenses come out to about $2 million, while the heavy equipment investments are tabbed at about $1 million.
Olson also briefly discussed a proposal to renew the county’s official government vehicle decal policy. Essentially, that would continue an exemption for specific county employees to operate vehicles without adhering to certain mandates of a state law passed in 2000 which requires publicly-funded government automobiles to be identified with particular seals or markings.
“There’s a few administrative and department head vehicles that don’t have markings on them,” Olson said. “There’s a couple of ones in the pool that travel around the state — [Commissioner Taylor], mine, I think [Bartow County Community Development Director] Lamont Kiser, and a couple of others.”
Olson also touched upon the issue of increased occupational tax revenue.
“State law requires if your revenue has increased in the occupation tax, the business license arena, then you have to have a hearing to tell the public what you’re doing with the increase,” he said. “So after many years of that revenue falling with the recession and so forth, the last couple of years it turned around and went from $302,000 to $314,000.”
He said he sees that uptick in revenue as partially “offsetting” the costs of the community development department, which is responsible for collecting the county’s occupational tax.
“Those fees are set based on the schedule we have in the code that’s based on the number of employees a business has,” he said. “Unlike many jurisdictions, which use gross receipts and charge a percent of what the business makes.”
Taylor is set to vote on the adoption of the FY 2019 operating budget at a meeting scheduled Feb. 6. The public hearing will take place at 10 a.m. at the Frank Moore Administration and Judicial Center at 135 West Cherokee Ave. in Cartersville.