“It’s actually within pennies of what we had last year,” Commissioner Robert Jones said of 2011’s budget, approved at Thursday’s commissioner’s meeting following a vacant public hearing.
Working with county department heads, Commissioner Jones and Pickens County Chief Finance Officer Mechelle Champion hammered out a $21,866,771 budget for 2011. That’s up over $2.8 million from the $18,999,692 budgeted for 2010.
Before you start scratching your head, Champion and Jones say the 2.8 percent increase is tied almost entirely to the SPLOST-funded Pickens County Community Center at Roper Park, budgeted at $2,644,242 for 2011.
“The majority of that is for the community center,” Jones said. Champion and Jones expect money collected from the one-percent SPLOST tax to eventually pay the $2.66 million budgeted for the county gym.
The Pickens County Community Center is a SPLOST-funded gymnasium facility now under construction at the back entrance to Roper Park, but the county will not be able to use SPLOST money for the project until SPLOST-approved Pickens County Courthouse project is completed.
Champion said the county will pay for the community center out of the county’s general fund until SPLOST money can be used to pay for the facility, but Champion is not certain when that will happen.
“We have to finalize the budget on the tier 1 projects first,” Champion said, “project the revenues for the remainder of the SPLOST, so that determination will be made in mid 2011.”
SPLOST projects fall under different tiers. For the most recent 2008 SPLOST passed by voters, projects in tier 1 include debt on the Pickens County Administration Building and the Pickens County Adult Detention Center, both of which have been paid in full.
Renovations to the Pickens County Courthouse were also included in tier 1 projects, but these have yet to be completed. In the original SPLOST spending resolution signed by Jones, $17 million was budgeted for the courthouse work.
All projects in tier 1 must be completed before projects in tier 2 can be funded, meaning renovations to the courthouse must be completed before money collected from the SPLOST can be used to pay for the community center, a tier 2 project.
Original projections for courthouse costs were over $17 million, but the commissioner has said the county will be able to complete the project for less.
Since money began rolling in from the 2008 SPLOST the county has collected $8.5 million. After paying for debt on the jail and the administration building, the county has a 2008 SPLOST balance of $4.8 million.
Not including the $2.66 million budgeted for the community center/gym project, Jones said the county just “rolled over the $19 million,” from the 2010 budget.
“I think we’re just trying to hold the line as it was last year,” Jones said. “I’m optimistic to the fact that I think the economy is going to recover a little bit. I don’t see any big changes, but I think we’ll be able to hold the line.”
Jones and Champion asked all department heads to scale back budgets for 2011 by two percent as a general guideline, and Jones was pleased with department efforts.
“The majority of all departments and elected officials pretty well went by that standard,” Jones said. “Some of them went below two, some of them went over two, so it all averaged out.”
Major increases in the budget include $40,000 to “Law,” which Champion says is “just because of some of the [law] suits. That’s based on what the attorneys are projecting.”
Jones says the number of cases coming down the pipeline is looking heavy for 2011, and “especially when you’ve got public defenders to deal with, you don’t exactly know what [the cost] is, but all you can do is a best guess scenario, because you have to pay a public defender attorney to represent these people that are breaking the law.”
Task Force, budgeted at $45,000; Inmate Medical, budgeted at $214,0265; Court Services, budgeted at $447,976; Animal Control, budgeted for $109,051; and Emergency Management at $40,000 were all split into their own departments for 2011.
Champion said the county was forced to budget for federal mandates in some departments as well.
The tax assessors office, for example, is now mandated to send out assessment notices to every landowner, meaning the department ended up with a $1,328 increase rather than the two percent decrease.
“Those are things we can’t help,” Champion said.
Jones and Champion increased the budget for general administration from $152,085 to $279,586 to add more cushion for unknown expenses that may come in 2011, including federally mandated changes to employee insurance premiums and social security.
“We’ve got insurance rates that aren’t going into effect until July 1,” Jones said, “so we may not know what premiums are going to do until March or April.
“I think [the Social Security changes] are going to help employees,” Jones added, “but the employer is going to have to make up the difference. So if you get a two percent break on your Social Security, that’s good for the employee, but the employer has to kick in the rest of that. It’s not a wash.”
Jones said if the county doesn’t end up having elevated costs from insurance and Social Security, the county can put that contingency money into the county’s fund balance.
Jones also said raises for county employees are not completely out of the question for 2011, but if they do come about, Jones said they will be extremely modest.
“We’re undecided about raises this year,” Jones said, “and if, and that’s a big if, we do, it’s going to be very nominal.”