Officials have submitted a new budget balanced at $193,028,650, a 1.6 percent increase over the current fiscal year’s $189,906,494 budget. The property tax rate of 9.13 mills would remain unchanged under the proposal.
A public hearing is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Cherokee Hall in the Northside Hospital-Cherokee Conference Center to hear public comments about the proposed budget. A copy of the budget was posted late Wednesday on county’s website under the “Cherokee County Government Transparency” link.
Cherokee’s general fund budget — its primary operating fund — will see only a slight budget increase of 0.2 percent from the current fiscal year. A budget of $56,436,428 million has been proposed, which is up slightly from $56,320,517 adopted for 2012.
The operating budget — including fire safety, emergency medical services, the 911 center, jail, parks and recreation, transportation, senior services, insurance and benefits, and drug court — is a $1.7 million, or 1.5 percent, decrease to $115,722,404.
Capital investment spending, which includes the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax and parks bond projects, would increase by $4.9 million, or 6.7 percent, to $77,306,246 under the budget.
An increase in SPLOST spending is driven by spending remaining from SPLOST V reserves on existing projects and the beginning of projects from the renewed 2012 SPLOST, according to the county.
Projects funded by the 2012 SPLOST include $1.5 million for a law enforcement training center, $1.3 million for a fire department training center and $22 million in road and bridge improvements.
According to the county, $6.6 million in reimbursements for the Commerce Boulevard project from Georgia Department of Transportation and Northside Hospital means capital spending is actually decreasing by $1.8 million or 2.9 percent.
“We would fully expect that with the capital reimbursement, the budget total to be $186.4 million, or a decrease of 2 percent,” said Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens.
“However, the main driver that I watch and which is directly related to property tax revenue, fees, fines, etc is operating expenses and these show a decrease of $1.7 million or 1.5 percent.”
Ahrens said he believes the county is on solid financial ground, based on estimates included in the proposed budget.
Two new county government departments are added under the proposed budget. A Parks and Recreation Aquatic Center would require five full-time and 46 part-time employees. Annual expenses are estimated at $704,000, but revenues at $708,000.
A Drug Accountability Court would be staffed by a full-time employee. The court is to be funded by grants and existing reserves collected from the Drug Abuse Training and Education Fund.
Under the budget, the county would add 25 positions and reduce two positions, a part-time Internet technology position and a full-time mechanic.
The county anticipates property taxes to bring in $101.1 million, among other revenue sources.
County departments were instructed to limit their individual 2013 budgets to a 12-month annualization of the 2012 budget.
Earlier this month, the county switched its fiscal year to Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. It had been operating based on the calendar year, from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31. The change meant that its 2012 Fiscal Year was just nine months.
Officials believe the change is more transparent to budget changes and allows the budget to be prepared more closely with the millage rate setting process.
In July, commissioners voted 4-1 to adopt a revenue neutral millage rate for county operations. Commissioner Jim Hubbard voted against the measure, which raised the millage rate by 0.86 mills.
A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value.
County officials expect to complete an annual audit by next March. Shortly afterwards, a 2014 Fiscal Year budget will begin to be developed. The 2013 millage rate, which will be adopted in late July, will be based on close estimates of 2014 budget requirements, according to the county.