On Tuesday morning, the county commission ordered department heads, constitutional officers and non-governmental agencies to cut their budget requests for the upcoming fiscal year by 2 percent.
“In order for us to keep the millage rate where it is, we can’t allow any increases,” Commissioner Pinki Jackel said, during commissioner comments at the end of the short, 90-minute meeting. “I suggest we ask for a 2 percent cut across the board.
“That’s a starting point where we can go into the process feeling like we will come out of the process with a good result,” she said.
Jackel said she expected unpredictable expenses including an increase in the cost of insurance. Chair Cheryl Sanders said she agreed with Jackel.
“We’re going to have to be very careful how we do the budget,” Sanders said. “I believe in a balanced budget. We are going to have to live within our means. The rise in property taxies is hurting some people. When we’ve got (money), it’s good. When we don’t, we have to make cuts. We’ve been on a downward incline since 2006.”
Sanders said she agreed the recent economic downturn was nearly over. “Blue skies are coming,” Jackel said.
Allan Feifer, president of Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, distributed a copy of an email originally posted to Sanders and emailed Sunday to the Concerned Citizens’ membership.
In it, he called for a 2 percent across-the-board cut. He also suggested means of streamlining budget.
Feifer said requests for new capital items or additional funding should be itemized for commissioners. He said this would eliminate the possibility of one-time requests being included in subsequent budgets.
He proposed that requests to hire additional personnel should be presented in writing with justification for the new position.
Feifer asked that every department and constitutional officer submit a list of ways to cut their budget to the commission. He also asked that departments and constitutionals provide, in writing, an employee headcount, along with the average salary, and any change in that salary over the last three years.
“The inequities that have transpired within certain constitutional officers employee raises have been a slap in the face to county departments,” he wrote in his letter. “I am sure that by requesting this information, inequities will be revealed. Some individuals are seeing double-digit increases in their pay and then taking the across-the-board increases on top of that.”
Lastly, he suggested departments and constitutionals be asked to account for any outside funding they have received.
Feifer said it was stressful to push important decisions to the last-minute during budget hearings. “As a late-night alumni of budget hearings, this year I would love to see the process be more collegial and more thoughtful,” he said.
Jackel moved to have Clerk of Courts Marcia Johnson send a letter to constitutional officers and department heads instructing them to include the 2 percent cut in their budget requests. After several unanswered requests for a second, Commissioner Smokey Parrish seconded Jackel’s motion. The measure passed 4-1, with Commissioner Noah Lockley opposed.
“I can’t support this because we are asking people for 2 percent not everyone agreed on,” Lockley said.
“Does this mean I am to refuse it if a budget doesn’t have the 2 percent cut?” Johnson asked.
“That’s how I would do it,” Sanders said.
She said that nongovernmental agencies would also be subject to the cutback. Johnson said she would try to distribute the letter this month.
Because of stagnant growth in the tax base, commissioners last year hiked millage by about 8 percent, from 5.9637 to 6.4705 mills.
The budget raised about $10.56 million in ad valorem property tax proceeds, an increase of a little more than $717,000 the year prior’s $9.84 million.