Houston proposes $51.6 million budget, no tax increase

wcrenshaw@macon.comJune 18, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- The Houston County Board of Commissioners unveiled a $51.6 million general fund budget Tuesday that is just slightly more than last year’s budget.

The county was tweaking the budget as late as Monday, and it was still uncertain until then whether employees would be getting a raise. Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said in his presentation of the budget that employees would get a 2.5 percent raise. The county had hoped to resume merit increases, but he said there isn’t enough money for that.

The budget does not include a tax increase.

Stalnaker said the budgeting process began in January when department heads were asked to submit their proposed budgets. The fiscal year begins July 1.

“It was probably the toughest budget I’ve ever been involved with,” Stalnaker said. “I’ve been around this county for a number of years, but I can tell you the last three years it has been the toughest.”

A big reason for that, he said, is stagnant growth in the tax digest, which compiles the total value of property in the county and determines how much each mill of taxes will generate in revenue. He said he is hopeful that will begin turning around in the coming year.

The general fund budget is $739,365 more than last year’s budget, with most departments getting just a slight increase or even decreases in some cases. If a state grant for resurfacing county roads was removed, Stalnaker said the true increase is only $117,000 from last year.

The general fund is for basic county operations such as the sheriff’s department, public works and administration, and is primarily supported by property taxes.

The total budget is $104.2 million and includes the special purpose local option sales tax and self-funded operations such as the landfill and water system.

After the public hearing on the budget, residents were asked to speak, and the only comment was from meeting regular Walton Wood. An environmental activist, he said he has been to commission meetings in many other counties and praised the professionalism of the Houston commissioners.

Chief Building Inspector Tim Andrews chimed in a comment about Stalnaker.

“The chairman has been a little modest tonight,” Andrews said. “He didn’t start in January checking these budgets. He started July 1. When I go and meet with the chairman on any unrelated topic, he’s going to end the meeting by going to his filing cabinet and pulling the budget out and ask me how I’m doing on my budget.”

Stalnaker pointed out the county hasn’t had a property tax increase in four years, and it has only gone up about a mill in the last 23 years. Landfill fees and water fees have also not increased in several years, he said.

“I challenge you to find another county that can say that,” he said.

The board will approve the budget at a called meeting to be held June 25 at 5:30 p.m. at the county annex building at 200 Carl Vinson Parkway in Warner Robins. A copy of the budget is available for review at the county office in the annex building.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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