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Lee officials may have to trim $3.6M

LEESBURG -- Lee County officials will have roughly $3.6 million to pare from department heads' wish lists in the next couple of months as they work to balance what could be a tricky Fiscal Year 2011 budget.

Lee Commissioners and the heads of the various county departments have been given copies of a proposed budget that Finance Director Heather Kittrell worked up using budget requests from the various departments. Kittrell said Tuesday revenue declines will make the '11 budget a difficult one to balance.

"Some of the things that department heads are asking for are going to be tough to work into the budget with revenues down like they are," she said. "When you're looking to add to an already tight budget, it's hard to do without increasing taxes.

"I'm not going to try and speak for the Commission, but from what I've heard they definitely don't want to raise taxes."

The county is currently operating under a Fiscal Year 2010 budget that was set at $21,392,108. The working budget for the July 2010 to June 2011 fiscal year came in at $23,648,579.

Some of the budget requests that will no doubt be scrutinized closely include $610,833 needed to staff the soon-to-be-finished Smithville Fire/EMS Station, $486,134 in funding for new positions in the Lee Sheriff's Office, $420,000 in funding for new Sheriff's vehicles, $358,648 for new positions at the Lee County Jail, $100,000 in jail renovations and $90,000 in liability insurance increases.

The total increase of the 14 largest budget requests is $2,308,115.

Meanwhile, the county is expecting decreases totaling $1,470,881 from 15 of its revenue producers. Among the largest are losses of $427,378 from the Building Inspection department, $278,500 in Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax V funds, $250,000 in motor vehicle taxes, $96,000 in local option sales taxes and $88,818 in SPLOST IV funds.

"One of the big revenue decreases is the Building Inspection transfer," Kittrell said. "They have, in the past, had their own fund balance, which was pretty significant. That balance was rolled into the general fund, so there won't be a transfer this year.

"However, if the Utilities Authority restructures its debt so that there's no transfer from the general fund, that should save $400,000. I know they're discussing doing that (at an Authority meeting Thursday), but until it's official, that $400,000 is still in the budget."

Kittrell, County Administrator Alan Ours and the Lee Board of Commissioners will start meeting with department heads on May 5 to discuss the specifics of their budget requests.

"We have to have some long-term goals, but to me it's safer to look at our budget on a year-to-year basis," Kittrell said. "You have to deal with issues as they arise while you're waiting to see if and when the economy improves."

Ours and four of the county's five commissioners were in Savannah for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia's annual meeting Tuesday. They are expected to return today.