Columbia County officials expect to have less money to work with next fiscal year and are planning accordingly.
In expectations that revenues could fall by 5 percent next year, commissioners sent a memo last week to department heads and division directors asking them to cut their budgets to compensate.
"The grim financial situation in the nation is being reflected in the exceedingly low growth of the tax digest and the decline in sales tax revenues in Columbia County," according to the memo.
Sales tax revenues are down 5.06 percent compared to last year and were down by as much as 7.84 percent earlier in the year, said Finance Director Leanne DeLoach.
The county's coffers also were hit by a new state law imposing a three-year moratorium on raising property values through reassessments.
"When you're losing revenues, your only choices are to cut expenses or raise taxes," Deputy Administrator Scott Johnson said during a Tuesday meeting. "We're not going to raise taxes."
Commission Chairman Ron Cross said the commission is determined to work within a balanced budget without further burdening property owners.
"We are making efforts, continually, to live within our means," he said.
Commissioners are asking directors and managers to employ "zero-based" budgeting, meaning each program will have to be justified on its own rather than assumed to continue as an ongoing expense. Officials must go through all line items in their budgets to look for cuts.
Methods for producing a savings might include eliminating programs, deferring capital expenses, eliminating vacant positions and hiring delays.
Positions already eliminated since the 2008-09 fiscal year include three in the Columbia County Library, and one each in engineering, maintenance, planning, human resources, finance, recreation and roads and bridges departments.
County departments receiving money through the general fund should "anticipate no new hires unless other expenses are reduced," according to the memo.
Elected officials, division directors and department heads are expected to discuss the budget further on Jan. 12.
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