Columbia County officials on Tuesday held the first of what might be many meetings to set a budget for next fiscal year, and some officials urged commissioners to protect local services even at the expense of state agencies.
Nearly $1.9 million in county tax money subsidizes such state agencies as the Superior Court, Health Department and Forestry Commission.
With more state budget cuts expected this month, some state agencies likely will be coming to commissioners seeking a larger subsidy from the county.
"We should not allow our state representatives to put it (budget cuts) upon the back of Columbia County," Sheriff Clay Whittle said.
Whittle said county services take precedence over those of the state, and should not suffer because of state budget cutbacks.
Commission Chairman Ron Cross argued that sometimes subsidies to state agencies are needed to maintain the expected level of service.
Cross used the Department of Driver Services on Evans-to-Locks Road as an example of a state agency that likely would shut down without county funds. If that office were to close its doors, residents would be forced to drive to Richmond or McDuffie counties to apply for driver's licenses.
"That balancing act is what's difficult for me," Cross said.
Commissioners recently sent a memorandum to county division directors, department heads and elected officials asking them to trim their budgets by 5 percent for next fiscal year.
That percentage is equivalent to what the county expects to lose in sales tax revenues.
About $15.5 million of the county's $56.5 million general fund is expected to come from the Local Option Sales Tax, which is a 1 percent tax on the purchase of goods in Columbia County.
Sales tax revenues currently are down by more than 3 percent, but officials said Tuesday that they expect collections to improve by the time the fiscal year concludes in June.
A 5 percent loss in sales taxes equals about $2.4 million.
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