December 14, 2013

Dalton, Whitfield to set budgets

The Daily Citizen

— Judging from the turnout at their respective budget hearings, the public may not care much that the Dalton City Council and the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners will vote on their 2014 operating budgets on Monday.

Or maybe the public has seen the budgets and is satisfied with the spending priorities.

The City Council has proposed a basically conservative budget. Spending is set to rise 2.9 percent from 2013 to $30.2 million. Most of that increase is driven by factors largely out of the council’s control such as higher health insurance costs, including new fees mandated by the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as well as higher payments required by the city’s pension plan.

The council’s budget forecast calls for property tax rates to remain the same next year.

Commissioners have proposed a $40.7 million general fund budget for 2014, up from around $37.3 million in projected spending for this year. But commissioners say that increase isn’t really as large as it looks. About $500,000 of it is state money for paving roads. The only roads that will be resurfaced will be ones funded by the state. 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.

Board Chairman Mike Babb says the county can probably make it one more year without a property tax increase but commissioners are considering asking voters for a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) next year to pay for things such as patrol cars for the sheriff’s office, fire trucks and road paving beyond that funded by the state.

Commissioners are set to vote at noon in Administrative Building 2 in Dalton, while the City Council will vote at its regular meeting at 6 p.m. in City Hall. This will be your last chance to speak to elected officials before they vote, so whether you are happy with their proposed budgets or think they are misguided you need to turn out.