Lee board looks to cut $2 million

LEESBURG, Ga. -- The Lee County Commission's Finance Committee will start meeting with department heads the first week of May to try and whittle some $2 million in requested expenditures from the county's Fiscal Year 2011-12 budget.

County Finance Director Heather Kittrell created a "working budget" for the Finance Committee based on department heads' wish lists, and she said the requests are $2,086,000 more than projected revenues.

"I'm always very conservative with my projections, and we're right now looking at a general fund of $20,388,000 for the coming fiscal year," Kittrell said. "What the Finance Committee and the commission will do now is work to bring the requests in line with the revenue numbers.

"Some departments have requested capital that, frankly, may not happen. Certainly this is not my decision to make, but my guess is that a number of the new positions requested will come out of the budget. Department heads are going to have to justify adding any new positions."

Those full-time position requests, with benefits, account for $631,364 in new spending, easily the largest increase in the FY 2011-12 working budget. The next-largest expenditure request is $280,000 for Sheriff's Department vehicles.

Redbone Commissioner Bill Williams, a CPA who with Commission Chairman Ed Duffy serves on the Finance Committee, said belt-tightening will remain in order as the commission tries to steer the budget process through the ongoing recession. But Williams insisted the commission will again maintain the county's millage rate at its current level.

"We are not going to raise the millage rate; we know that much going into the process," Williams said Monday. "It's going to take a little more time to turn this economy around, and until we do we're going to keep doing the things we've been doing.

"Hopefully, we'll soon start generating new businesses that will increase our local-option and special-purpose local-option sales tax numbers. Once we get to a point where we're doing that and we increase our property tax base, we should be all right."

While the Finance Committee will be working with Kittrell and department heads over the next few weeks to bring the budget numbers in line, County Administrator Tony Massey said county leaders would take care of "obligations and priorities" before considering new expenditures.

"It's typical that the preliminary budget numbers are out of balance," Massey said. "The challenge, of course, is to match the expenditures with the revenues. That means we'll have to make decisions on what we really need. The county will have to meet obligations, priorities and commitments first and then make decisions on other expenditures.

"I'm thankful to have a talented staff and talented individuals like Bill Williams and Ed Duffy on the Finance Committee to work with. That's something I haven't had in the past. I'm still new, still learning, and I'll look to the staff and the commission for guidance in this process, but I can say with assurance that the budget that's out there in April will not look the same in June."

County Clerk Christi Dockery notes that information about the current fiscal year budget and county audits is available at the Carl Vinson Institite of Government's website at www.cviog.uga.edu. Once on that site, click on HB 122 Financial Reporting and type in Lee County in the search bar.