Columbia County taxpayers might have to pay a bigger share of the costs to run state agencies.
Lawmakers again will slash the state budget after the General Assembly convenes this week. Those cuts likely will translate into less funding for state agencies operating in Columbia County.
Columbia County Commission members expressed its concern during a meeting with lawmakers Tuesday about the potential for lost state services in the county, or the possibility they might have to find the funding to keep those services.
The county already spends nearly $1.9 million annually to help operate such state agencies as the Health Department, Forestry Commission, Division of Family and Children Services, Driver's License Bureau and Superior Court.
The county also has earmarked $44 million in 1-cent sales tax funds to construct a new Health Department building and widen Washington Road, which is a state route. Last year, the county spent $2 million in sales tax money to build a Georgia State Patrol post on Chamblin Road.
Lawmakers indicated Tuesday that the commission might have to pay even more to maintain service levels at those agencies.
"I just don't see any way around it," state Rep. Ben Harbin, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said about additional budget cuts. "We're probably going to have to cut everything a little bit."
Harbin said the extent of the cuts isn't yet known, but he expects election-year politics to be a factor in what state programs are nixed and what departments suffer most.
In the past two years, the state budget has been cut from $22 billion to $15 billion and legislators likely will be looking to trim about $700 million more.
Such cuts present a particularly difficult challenge for communities such as Columbia County that wish to maintain the level of services expected by its residents, but can do so only by maintaining its funding levels, said Commissioner Ron Thigpen.
Columbia County has budget problems of its own even without having to find local money to fund state agencies.
Last month, the commission announced that they have directed department heads and division directors to cut their budgets by 5 percent. That percentage is nearly equal to the drop in sales tax revenues in the county.
Despite the drop in revenues, officials pointed out the county still has a healthy reserve fund and is still generating more sales tax revenue that it was two years ago.
"We're very fortunate, but we're not unimpacted," Thigpen said.
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