Local News

December 16, 2013

Whitfield commission approves 2014 budget

Nelson Conger asked the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners to think twice before considering any tax increase, whether a hike in the property tax or a new Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).

“I just want to remind the commissioners respectfully that a lot of people are hurting, the economy is still down and unemployment is still high,” he said Monday before commissioners voted on the 2014 operating budget.

That budget does not call for a tax increase. Commissioners say they are discussing putting a SPLOST on the ballot next year.

“We are talking about it,” commissioner Lynn Laughter. “We haven’t made any decisions. But it is our only way to pay for capital needs except a property tax increase.”

The board voted 4-0 to approve a $40.7 million general fund budget for 2014, up from about $37.3 million in projected spending for this year.

Commissioners said that increase isn’t really as large as it looks. About $500,000 of it, for instance, is state money for paving roads. The only roads that will be resurfaced will be those the state funds. Another $600,000 is funding for the county pension. Commissioners haven’t had to pay anything into the pension for the past three years because it has been funded at more than 100 percent. But during that time, the liabilities have grown, so the county is going to have to put money in to keep it at 100 percent. And commissioners are going to put in an additional $450,000 for higher health care costs, including fees required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The county will spend another $5.3 million for the fire department from a special tax district.

The budget forecast calls for the county to end 2014 with a fund balance of $12 million, and some $10.3 million of that is dedicated to the county’s 90-day reserve. Officials say their budget experts recommend keeping 90 days of spending on hand to cover any cash flow issues.

Though the budget will affect every one of Whitfield County’s more than 100,000 residents, board Chairman Mike Babb noted that Conger was the only ordinary citizen to address the board either before they voted Monday or at a public hearing they held on the budget last week.

Conger said he felt compelled to speak.

“To be honest, part of it was the editorial that ran over the weekend. I felt I had no right to complain if I did not at least make my concerns know to the commissioners,” he said.

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