Dougherty budget on track, officials say (Updated with video)

ALBANY, Ga. -- Revenues through the first half of the 2011 fiscal year are trending above expenditures and are in line with budget projections, Dougherty County officials said Wednesday.

But there is no celebratory mood on the fifth floor of the Government Building as county leaders predict stagnant growth for the next budget, which will take effect July 1.

Speaking during a meeting of the Dougherty County Finance Committee, County Administrator Richard Crowdis said that revenues are at 64 percent of the annual projection with six months left in Fiscal Year 2011.

Expenditures, meanwhile, are at 46 percent of total projections in the first half of the fiscal year.

The county primarily depends on property taxes to fund services, with sales tax revenues and fees filling in the gaps.

Sales tax collections, which have been the most volatile part of the city, county and school board budgets since the recession took hold three years ago, seem to be leveling out and are at 50 percent of expectations for the year with six months left to go.

While it appears that the abrupt drops in revenue have given way to a more steady pace, Finance Committee Chairman Lamar Hudgins said Wednesday that county officials expect much of the budget restrictions that have been in place for two years now -- freezes on merit and cost-of-living raises, deferment of vehicle purchases, and scheduled furloughs -- will likely continue into the next fiscal year.

Asked what the current financial conditions could mean for the county's budget considerations for Fiscal Year 2012, Hudgins said, "It means just like we did last year, we'll be looking at the options and continue on like we did. Perhaps things will be brighter is some areas. Hopefully they will."

Crowdis also said that county department heads have been sent their budget packets and they will begin putting together their proposals for the FY '12 budget year that starts July 1.

Those proposals are due back by the end of February, at which time county staff will meet and start to hammer out a rough budget before bringing it before the Finance Committee and, finally, the County Commission.

While the primary objective of the commission over the last two years has been to avoid cutting services and raising taxes, Hudgins said Wednesday that the time has come that the county must address the pay disparity between its police force, the Dougherty County Police Department, and the Albany Police Department.

In some cases, the pay difference is nearly $5 per hour between officers at the same level at the two departments, Hudgins said. He said he may propose an increase on taxes for those in the special tax district (unincorporated areas of the county) by an amount equal to 1 mill.

That additional mill would be earmarked for the Dougherty County Police Department.