CORDELE — Millions here, millions there: Bibb County commissioners spent Saturday morning talking about some real money in their second and final day of a Lake Blackshear planning session.
The commissioners are getting ready to reopen their fiscal year 2011 budget, which went into effect July 1. The tax base is sagging, so revenues are stagnant, but Finance Committee Chairman Elmo Richardson said he wants to see whether the county can find an additional $9.4 million in cuts to prevent a raid on the county’s financial reserves and guard its bond rating. Outside agencies, such as museums, are likely to get additional scrutiny.
Commissioner Lonzy Edwards said the county has relatively few options in fixing some of its problems, forcing decisions about priorities. “We’ve got to sit down and ask those really, really hard questions about where we are as a community,” he said.
Costs are pressing. Commissioners had hoped to use money from a special purpose local option sales tax to keep the roadway of Pamela Court from washing away. The SPLOST failed, and the road will cost $100,000 to stabilize.
But there are multimillion-dollar worries.
Commissioners want to put at least some funding into a trust-fund for retirees’ health insurance, again look at a competitive pay scale for employees, seek federal funding that could help pay to replace a failing emergency radio system and build a juvenile court facility. Judges still are standing behind an order that declares the current courthouse to be unsafe and inadequate.
Such money won’t be easy to find. Commissioners tried to balance this year’s budget without raising taxes, even though a subsidy from an ended SPLOST was running out of steam.
The county decided to keep taxes level even as the school system and Macon raised taxes. Officials cut millions of dollars in expenses on items as basic as cleaning supplies and eliminated dozens of jobs left vacant because of financial worries.
Richardson said the deepest cuts were to industrial and urban development, the transit authority, health and welfare.
“We had a big cut in our budget, almost 10 percent overall,” Richardson said. “We haven’t really cut as far as public safety, public works, which is the core part of running county government.”
Commissioners questioned how much county government should fund organizations such as the Museum of Arts and Sciences or River Edge Behavioral Health Services. No decisions were made.
County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said cuts could have to be deeper. He said the county could try to find savings by moving away from a pension plan for new employees or looking again at health care costs. The county is limited in what it can change on its health plan without losing its “grandfathered” status under federal health care reform.
“If we don’t find these cuts, then we’re talking about a tax increase next year,” Hart said.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.