Houston commission presents proposed budget to public

wcrenshaw@macon.comJune 17, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- The Houston County Commission unveiled a $52.2 million general fund budget Tuesday that keeps the property tax rate unchanged and spending about the same as the past year.

At the end of Tuesday’s regular meeting, Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker outlined the budget, which he said is little changed from last year’s, which was $51.6 million. He said it has been the toughest budget process since he took office in 2010.

“It was scraping and scratching, but we’ve been very successful, and the reason we are successful is the employees, because they are very cost conscious,” he said.

The budget includes a 3-percent raise for county employees, but merit and longevity increases remain suspended. The budget also keeps a freeze on new positions being created.

“I know departments that have not had new personnel in 20 years, and yet they continue to do the job,” Stalnaker said.

The general fund budget is the portion of the budget that is funded primarily by property taxes. It includes basic county operations such as the sheriff’s office, public works and the court system. The total budget proposal, which includes operations funded with user fees and other revenue sources, is $110.1 million. Those operations include garbage collection and disposal, E-911, special local option sales tax, and the water and fire district funds.

Stalnaker said the county has enough reserve funds to pay for general fund operations for five months. He said that’s important because it allows the county to pay bills year-round without having to take out loans to get by until tax payments come in. The county did not take any money from the reserve fund to balance the budget, he said.

“Houston County is in sound fiscal shape,” he said. “We are not in great shape.”

All departments were asked to keep expenses at or below the current year’s levels. He noted that if, for example, a department had $10,000 budgeted for a line item in the current year and only spent $8,000, then the county did not try to cut that item to $8,000. Stalnaker said he did not want employees thinking they needed to spend all of the money in a line item in order to get the same amount of money the following year.

The board expects to approve the budget at a called meeting Tuesday following a second public hearing. The meeting will be held at 5 p.m. at the Courthouse Annex on Carl Vinson Parkway.

The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Only one resident spoke during Tuesday’s public hearing, and he spoke favorably about the proposed budget.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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