Budget hearings underway for Pickens County

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budget hearing
budget hearings

Photo by Susan Kirkland
The Board of Commissioners met with all department heads to discuss budgets.

Sheriff Donnie Craig presented his budget request at a budget hearing with the Pickens County Board of Commissioners this week and after negotiations, settled for a $7,981,149.36 budget, $489,150.57 or a 6.6-percent increase over 2020’s budget of $7,425,731.

It was $2,400 less than the original $7,983,549.36, a

budget hearings

Photo by Susan Kirkland
Pickens County offices have a new thermometer to take people’s temperatures prior to them coming into the building. The machine has a wrist scanner.

$557,818.36 or a 7.5-percent increase over the 2020 budget of $7,425,731.

Faye Harvey, Finance Director for Pickens County, said the county couldn’t afford a $500,000 increase.

Craig pointed out at the budget hearing that his department has operated under staffed for the last couple of years. They are authorized to staff 98 positions, but actually employ 82.

“We’ve lost 18 people this year,” Craig said.

He said they have five of those filled, but haven’t started yet, leaving 11 vacant positions. Of those 11, he requested cutting three of them, including the one held by chairman-elect Kris Stancil.

Commissioner Becky Denney asked the Sheriff if he’d consider other options to directly funding the remaining eight positions.

“Would you be willing to leave those monies in the general fund then doing a budget amendment when you hired someone?” she asked.

Craig said he didn’t like budget amendments because gave the appearance of going over budget.


Chairman Rob Jones said that because those positions were already budgeted for, it wouldn’t look like that.

“We have done this for other departments but your department is different,” said Denney.

The Sheriff’s Department is the largest in the county.

Some areas of the increase cannot be helped, Craig said. These would be insurance premiums, holiday and overtime pay, and education incentives.

“Those are just out of our control,” he said.

Jones told the commissioners that they may need to consider looking at the budgets quarterly and adjusting as needed.

“I hate to say it,” Denney said, “But we may have to consider a millage rate increase. I’m not advocating for it, but. . .”

“Stuff happens,” said commissioner Jerry Barnes.

“If we don’t have the money now for the budget, how will we have it when we need a budget amendment?” asked Craig.

“We could pull it from the fund balance, but if we do that, it’s typically when you are increasing the millage rate,” Harvey said.

Animal Control

budget hearings

The Pickens County Animal Shelter has been without an animal control officer since October. Low rate of pay is the reason, according to Natasha Howard, director.

Animal Control, at this weeks budget hearing, asked for a slight increase of 1.57-present or $5,548 bringing the 2021 budget to $358,776 from 2020’s $353,228.

The increase would cover a salary raise for the position of Animal Control Officer to $13.05 from $10.98 per hour. The person in that position is on call nights and weekends.

“The increase is to raise what we pay the animal control officer,” said Natasha Howard, director of animal control. “We currently pay $10.98 per hour and we can’t keep anyone in that position.”

The position is currently vacant, after the last one quit in October, she said.

“We won’t hire one until January,” she told the commissioners at the budget meeting.

Another issue facing both Pickens County and their animal shelter is the city of Jasper wanting to step back from duties within the city and wanting the county to take it over.

“They want us to enforce their ordinances in the city and legally we can’t do that without an intergovernmental agreement,” Chairman Rob Jones told the board.

It’s that agreement that both entities have yet to agree on. According to Jones, the city sent one over that included a nominal amount for taking over animal control.

“In the past, they would handle large animals like horses and cattle in the roads and we’d take their cats,” Jones said.

He said the county could not do what the city was asking for the amount they offered.

Howard said they spend about $200 per animal for medical care, including vaccines and tests, more if the animal is sick or injured. The animal shelter actually cut their professional services by $3,300 to $30,000 from $33,300.





Jasper considers 2.125 mill increase in early budgeting process

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JASPER, Ga. – The City of Jasper is holding meetings with citizens to discuss plans to move forward with a major increase of its Millage Rate.

The increase being considered is a 45.6 percent increase over the 4.655 mills that the city has held for three years now. In 2017, the rate was set at 4.655 mills from 2016’s 4.683 mills.

The proposed Millage Rate for 2020 is 6.78 mills. An increase of 2.125 mills.

Millage Rate

A comparison sheet shown by City Manager Brandon Douglas in the September 24, 2020, public hearing for the millage rate.

The last time the rate was raised was 2001 when it went from 4.630 mills to 4.710 mills. The last time the millage rate was over 6 mills was 1996 when it was set at 6.850 mills.

According to City Manager Brandon Douglas, he met with the finance department and department heads, they found that normal operating costs produced a preliminary 2021 budget held a deficit of roughly $551,000. He also noted that indications pointed to a two to two-and-half percent increase in revenues while expenditures increase at three to five-and-a-half percent per year.

Douglas said, “That is not a sustainable financial model.”

He went on to say that the city needs corrective action for the finances. The gap between revenue and expenditures that the city is seeing has come from not correcting these issues sooner.

Douglas also noted the importance of property taxes as they make up 30 percent of the total revenue budget for the city. Many of the sources of revenue that make up the other 70 percent are unknown or not directly controlled by officials and the city. This puts the point of the property tax as something directly controlled by these elected officials.

There will be another meeting of the city at 5:30 p.m. on October 5, 2020, to hear more from the public on the proposed millage rate as Douglas stated, “It is staff’s goal to work with the elected officials through this public hearing process to recommend and adopt a millage rate that is reflective of providing a balanced budget. It is not our goal to just simply adopt a 6.78 millage rate.”

He noted that by the October 5 meeting of the Jasper City Council, he hopes to have gotten with officials through their committees to identify “ways to reduce certain preliminary department budgets.”

As a part of the budget process, the millage rate is adopted before the budget is adopted. The plan for the 2021 budget, according to Douglas, is adoption on December 7, 2020. Working towards that  goal. This process is way to see what the budget could look like in order to have the budget in mind while adopting the millage rate which must be adopted first before the actual budget is adopted.

Union County lowers tax increase to 17 percent

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lowers tax increase

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – In a called meeting, Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris approved dropping the tax increase from 19.98 percent to 17 percent.

“After hearing from constituents at the three public hearings, Union County has decided to reduce the proposed property tax increase to 17%. The school portion of your bill is about two-thirds of the total tax bill meaning that even with the increase from the county, your actual out of pocket property tax increase should only be about 5.8% of your total property tax bill,” Paris explained.

Millage Rate Resolution

The county side of the millage rate is now set at 7.178 mills, not the 7.361 mills that was approved in the August 27 called meeting.

The commissioner also detailed all the reasons behind the proposed increase.

  1.  “We have mostly been in the top three lowest mil rates in Georgia out of 159 counties since I have been in office.  In trying to help the public with low taxes and provide the best facilities and services possible, this very low rate is just not sustainable any longer.
  2. Increase of salaries for Sheriff and Jail deputies in order to maintain staff and not lose them to other counties.
  3. In order to keep property taxes low, we have had to utilize the reserve funds to help balance the budget and need to replenish them.
  4. Our medical insurance rates have increased each year with 2018 increasing $750,000 which we are still trying to make up for and are going up $100,000 next year.
  5. We are being required to have all property reevaluated in the county by next year and the cost is $380,000.
  6. Our commitment to a new gun range that has been in the works for nearly 5 years will be approximately $500,000 and it is too late to change. Thanks to the sheriff, 75% will be paid by grant funding.
  7. The State of Georgia has cut its budget 15% which is estimated to impact the county library, drug court, health dept by approximately $70,000.
  8. Vehicle maintenance and equipment repairs are up $40,000.
  9. Paving (LMIG Funds) from the State DOT will be decreased $104,000.
  10. While the county is being reimbursed for some of the COVID-19 funds, we have no idea what our cost and expense will be in 2021. We are just holding our breath with the huge amount of new infection we are now experiencing in the county and not sure what the future holds.

Thanks for your understanding as we are all working very hard to keep our budget as low as possible and we will all continue that process.  Thank you!!”

The board of education maintained it’s millage rate at 11.74 mills, which was lower than the rollback rate.

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