Houston County budget keeps property taxes the same

WARNER ROBINS -- Houston County’s general fund budget for the upcoming fiscal year calls for no tax increase and a 3-percent raise for employees.

Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker presented the $50.1 million budget for the first time in a public hearing Tuesday. It marks about a $1 million reduction from the current fiscal year’s budget.

When the current fiscal year ends June 30, Stalnaker said he expects every department will be under budget for the second consecutive year.

“The auditors told us last year that is very rare,” he said.

A detailed breakdown of the budget showed some areas with a slightly higher budget, some with a slightly lower budget, but most staying about the same. He said the budget process began in January, and he credited county employee’s frugality and a cooperative spirit of department heads, including elected officials, with helping the county develop the fiscal 2013 spending plan. The budget includes no merit raises and no new staff positions.

“Every department head realized the economic conditions we are in, and everyone did their level best in keeping expenses to a minimum,” Stalnaker said.

The board will vote on the budget in a called meeting to be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the County Annex Building.

Only one resident spoke during the public comments portion of the hearing. Walton Wood questioned why the sheriff’s office budget was cut from $8.9 million this year to a proposed $8.6 million. Stalnaker said new patrol cars were included in the current fiscal year’s budget, while patrol cars will be purchased separately through special local option sales tax funds in the upcoming fiscal year. Wood seemed satisfied with that answer.

“I would like to congratulate everyone who had anything to do with this budget,” Wood said.

Stalnaker pointed out that when the board approves the total budget next week it actually will be more than $100 million. That’s because the total budget includes such things as the special local option sales tax fund and self-sustaining enterprise accounts such as the landfill, garbage collection and the water fund.

The budget would keep the millage rate at 9.95 mills. Stalnaker said it could have been raised slightly under the constraints of the county’s tax cap. Property owners in unincorporated areas would pay an additional 1.08 mills for the fire tax that funds the county fire department.

Keeping the millage rate the same is based on a projection that the tax digest will come in at $3.77 billion. Stalnaker said even if that’s off, the county can still keep the rate the same by balancing the budget through its reserve fund. He said by departments coming in under budget, the county has been able to increase the reserve fund to the equivalent of what it would take to operate the county for nearly three months.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.