Columbia County government and school system officials this week presented proposals for next year's spending as budget hearings for the county commission and school board begin.
To compensate for an increase in debt services during this fiscal year, county Finance Director Leanne DeLoach said at a Tuesday budget hearing that the millage dedicated to debt payments will be increased, while the taxes earmarked for maintenance and operations will be reduced.
"The result is we will lose approximately $288,650 in the general fund from what we received last year from making that one change," she said.
The overall millage will remain the same, she said.
Revenues for 2010-2011 are expected to decrease by 3.3 percent, to $54.6 million, from what was projected. Expenses are proposed at $53.4 million, resulting in a 5.5 percent decrease.
Sales tax revenues have dropped by about 5 percent during this fiscal year.
Officials reviewed two options for the general fund proposed budget.
Commissioners preferred an alternative that reduced property tax revenue expectations by $500,000.
"The second option I think would be the more conservative approach to further reduce anticipated revenues and be more fiscally responsible," County Administrator Steve Szablewski said. "If revenues come in then we will be very pleasantly surprised in a good way rather than a bad way."
Commission Chairman Ron Cross also announced that the Columbia County Library's hours won't be reduced. County officials had considered cutting back library hours, including closing it on Fridays, as a cost-cutting measure.
"We need to have it as accessible and user-friendly as we can," Cross said of the library.
A joint budget committee meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the government center auditorium, 630 Ronald Reagan Drive, Evans.
For school officials, Superintendent Charles Nagle on Tuesday morning presented a proposed budget that he described as "frugal" and "prudent," but admitted it comes with a huge question mark.
Specifically, school officials don't yet know how much revenue is coming from the state until the governor signs the budget.
"If it's less than $99.3 million, we're sad," Nagle said.
That amount would be about $3 million less than initially budgeted by the state last year, though that amount later was cut to $97 million and then temporarily propped up with $5 million in federal stimulus funds, Nagle said.
Altogether, next year's school budget is expected to be nearly $168.5 million. "We're reducing the budget by $2.4 million even though we're growing by 500 students next year," Nagle said.
Most of those cuts are coming from cutting 17 certified teaching positions and two counselor positions, and furloughing other staff for five days. The budget also proposes reducing the number of work days for paraprofessionals and media clerks, and eliminating the school system's funding for long-term disability insurance for employees.
Very few staffers use the long-term disability insurance, Nagle said, and phasing it out will eventually save the system more than $200,000. "It's a luxury we can't afford," he added.
The budget does include some increases, including $1.5 million for "step" pay increases for staff, an additional $550,000 to fund retirement, and funding for additional bus drivers and other auxiliary staff.
Filling the final gap in the budget will require using "a couple or $3 million" from the system's reserve fund, Nagle said, if state funding is at the expected level.
"Other than going back to the board and raising taxes, I don't have another option for you," he said. "Honestly, I think this is a good plan. I think this is a very frugal, a very prudent budget."
Board members will discuss the 2010-11 budget again at 4 p.m. Tuesday prior to their regularly scheduled meeting at the board office in Evans.
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