To generate community interest in the upcoming vote to renew a 1-cent sales tax and a separate bond referendum to build an aquatics and tennis center, Columbia County officials set aside time during a Tuesday commission meeting to discuss the issue.
Commission Chairman Ron Cross said the county is considering a public-private partnership with the Family Y to operate a natatorium if voters approve the $18 million referendum. He said the pool, and adjoining tennis courts, has a "narrow focus," but a "community-wide appeal."
County Administrator Steve Szablewski said much of the proposed sales tax would be used to retire $20 million of bonded debt for the construction of the Evans Justice Center and Columbia County Detention Center. To do so, Szablewski said, would free up $2 million in the general fund each year.
Another meeting to discuss the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax was held Thursday, with additional meetings scheduled for 2 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Evans Government Complex; 6 p.m., Oct. 14 at the government complex; 6 p.m., Oct. 21 at the government complex; and, 6 p.m., Oct. 28 at the Jabez Sanford Hardin Performing Arts Center at the Columbia County Library.
Due to a decrease in state funding, commissioners vot- ed Tuesday to ask departments supported by the county's general fund to identify potential budget cuts.
Officials said a 2.61 percent across-the-board budget cut would make up the $1.45 million in revenue the county could lose from the state's freeze of the Homestead Tax Relief grants.
During a recent Manage ment and Financial Services Committee meeting, some county officials opposed the proposed budget cut. Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle said commissioners should consider dipping into the county's reserve to offset the lost state funding. Cross said Tuesday that is a possibility, as he expects the county could identify an additional $1.8 million in revenue available following an audit of the 2007-08 budget.
Since the loss of the tax grants likely will become "an ongoing thing," however, Cross said examining where money can be saved now could prove useful if cuts become necessary and when county officials start preparing the 2009-10 budget.
Department heads must recommend budget cuts by Oct. 31 and the commission will consider them during a Nov. 18 meeting.
"It's not a mandate that everybody (must meet)," Szablewski said. "It's just to look at to see where a savings can be obtained."
Gov. Sonny Perdue nixed the tax grants in July. The $428 million the state will save will offset a projected $1.6 billion shortfall in the state budget, Perdue said.
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