Bibb budget still $1.4 million short

Bibb County is still $1.4 million short of a balanced budget, but county commissioners said Monday they hope to make up that difference in tax revenue.

The result is an $81.9 million fiscal 2010 budget, whittled down from the roughly $96 million in budget requests the commission received earlier this year.

“That’s a long ways from when we were looking at (cutting) $18 million,” Bibb county Commission Chairman Sam Hart said, referring to a point during the budget process when the difference between expected revenue and requests ballooned.

The budget does not have funding to fill vacant positions or give raises to Bibb’s nearly 900 employees.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 10 a.m. June 18 in the county courthouse on Mulberry Street. The commission is required to adopt a new budget by July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

Commissioners entered their Monday work session still needing to make the bulk of their cuts.

To lessen the amount of cuts needed to be made to departments and agencies, the commission decided to use about $6.2 million in excess revenue from a special purpose local option sales tax to pay for economic development expenses and debt service.

The commission also decided Monday to reduce its contribution to a trust that pledges money toward the county’s future liabilities. That contribution would drop from $5.5 million to $4 million. The trust helps meet an accounting standard that requires governments to develop a plan to deal with at least 30 years of post-employment benefits. At some point, money must be set aside to cover the plan or the county could face a lower bond rating.

Despite that cut, commissioners put several outside agencies under the knife.

They cut their indigent care funding contribution to The Medical Center of Central Georgia from $3.9 million to $1 million.

They also held the line for many outside groups, denying increased funding requests from River Edge Behavioral Health Center, the Macon-Bibb County public libraries, Central Georgia Technical College’s adult literacy program, the Tubman African American Museum and the Booker T. Washington Community Center.

“I could express some heartburn about everything everybody’s mentioned,” Commissioner Bert Bivins said.

But the Bibb County Finance Department did the best it could, he said, adding that he didn’t have any better suggestions.

Commissioner Joe Allen argued against cutting social services, saying that it was putting the burden on the backs of the poor.

“You’re hurting the poor people,” he said. “You’re hurting the people who can’t help themselves.”

Commissioners did agree to fund a nearly $100,000 increase for the Department of Family and Children Services.

The department’s after-school program is a valuable step in keeping children out of jail in the future, Commissioner Lonzy Edwards said.

“That one amounts to which end you want to pay for,” he said. “We are top-heavy locking up, and we do very little to keep them from getting in jail.”

Commissioners estimate about a one-third of a mill tax increase would cover the $1.4 million deficit that still remains. That would represent about $13 in additional taxes on a $100,000 home, officials said.

However, whether that tax increase actually is needed won’t be known until the county has a complete digest, commissioners said.

Because of this year’s property revaluation and an expected surge of appeals, the digest may not be set until after tax bills need to go out, so a temporary tax bill may be needed in the interim.

The commission plans to maintain a 2-mill tax rollback that excess sales tax revenue made possible last year.

Edwards was the sole commissioner to vote against the proposed tax plan. He said he opposed a one-third mill tax increase.

“I don’t think we’ve cut everywhere we can cut,” he said. “I’m convinced we’ve got $1.4 million in that budget.”

However, Edwards said he did not support a 2-mill rollback based on excess SPLOST funds this year because the commission never committed to maintaining it.

To contact writer Jennifer Burk, call 744-4345.