CONYERS -- An increase in property taxes for next year was part of the package offered Monday to fill an expected revenue gap for the proposed 2010 Rockdale County budget.
During a public hearing that turned contentious at times, the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners discussed the $54.7 million budget presented by Finance Director Roselyn Miller. The budget had clocked in at $57.1 million at the start of the budget process. Miller provided an overview of proposed cuts she used to get to $2.4 million in spending reductions.
The proposed budget included seven unpaid holidays for county employees, an increase in employee contributions to benefits, and positions that will remain unfunded that would result in $1.64 million in savings. The budget summary also included nine new positions and 16 reclassifications that added $782,296 to the budget.
The majority of the new hires and reclassifications came from adding deputies to the county jail expansion and providing staff for two new fire stations, Miller said.
Other reductions came from cutting operating expenses and money provided to outside agencies that resulted in $1.54 million in savings.
However, it was revenue that Miller said would be the major issue for next year's budget. Miller explained that revenue from the tax digest is expected to drop 4.3 percent next year. The county's tax digest generated $41.79 million in revenue this year and is expected to provide $39.99 million in 2010. That drop in tax revenue, along with other revenue, would result in a gap of $1.48 million.
Miller said a millage rate increase for property owners was inevitable considering the increases in personnel at the jail and fire department.
"The millage rate is the cost of services, and right now we've increased services," Miller told the commissioners.
Asked how much more the millage rate could be increased, Miller could not give an exact number, noting that the Board of Tax Assessors has not begun its work, but estimated that it could be 1 mill. The current county millage rate is 14.53 mills. The county has not raised the millage rate since 2005, according to Miller.
Commissioner JaNice Van Ness said she was troubled by hitting residents with a property tax increase and an expected rollback of the homestead exemption provided through the homestead option sales tax. She added there had not been any plans made in determining how general county services would be impacted, if they were cut. She suggested such a list could help residents in determining what they could live with if, as an example, Johnson Park was closed for one day a week.
Van Ness also complained that she had not seen any proposed cuts requested of county department heads. "We've never heard about those recommendations for cuts," she said. "A list is out there, and we've not been made privy to it."
Commissioner Oz Nesbitt also complained that his proposal to eliminate part-time workers was never fully considered. He believed a move to cut 34 part-time positions would save $780,000.
"We need to know what we can do without, and a list has to surface from the chair or it won't get talked about," Nesbitt said.
Rockdale County Commission Chairman Richard Oden said a balanced budget was already presented and that additional discussion was not productive. He argued against Van Ness' suggestion of additional cuts by saying, "We can close the tennis center, and we can close recreation facilities, but what you will have is all these kids out there on the streets, and I think that would then be a problem for the sheriff."
He said Van Ness was "grandstanding" and suggested she was posturing with an eye toward re-election next year.
Van Ness countered "Grandstanding? We're actually having a conversation about the budget, which is our job."
Oden added that the budget process is ongoing and that everything would be considered. "Closing down the tennis center, the recreation center and other services are all options on the table," he said.
The Board of Commissioners will have its first reading of the 2010 budget during the regular meeting at 10 a.m. Dec. 8. A second reading and vote is scheduled for 10 a.m. Dec. 22.