ALBANY The Dougherty County finance committee recommended Monday that the full commission adopt a general fund budget that will cut the number of unpaid holidays employees would have to face from nine to three, following another 11th hour agreement between Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and the Dougherty County Jail.
County employees who would not be affected by the three unpaid holidays would take a 1 percent pay cut under the committee's plan. County commissioners would see their pay trimmed 1 percent, and the county's contribution to the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission would be cut by 1 percent as well.
All but the budget for the county's special services district is now in the hands of the full commission. The finance committee will recommend that budget Wednesday at an 11:30 a.m. meeting.
The special services district, which envelopes the residents of the unincorporated portion of Dougherty County, has been the focus of intense scrutiny from a small group of concerned citizens who are challenging county officials who, for the time being, are recommending a two-mil tax increase for property tax payers in that district.
The change from nine to three unpaid holidays comes after Phoebe renegotiated the contract it has with the county to provide medical care to inmates at the county jail. That contract, originally worth about $1.5 million per year, was cut by $643,000.
County Administrator Richard Crowdis and his staff were also able to find more than $100,000 in savings after receiving new information from insurance officials Friday that will allow the county to lower the amount it had budgeted for increases in health care coverage.
While the full commission has until June 30 to adopt a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, they wasted no time Monday trying to find alternatives to raising taxes.
One of the more interesting suggestions came from Commissioner Gloria Gaines, who, along with Chairman Jeff "Bodine" Sinyard, suggested the commission consider raiding its Capital Improvements Program fund.
The CIP, as it's known, pre-dates the law that created the special local option sales taxes, and was originally created as the fund in which the county would use to make capital purchases to build things like roads and bridges and to buy things like cars and technology.
But since SPLOST was created and first approved by local voters in the late 1980's, the CIP has seen fewer and fewer use as projects that had been covered by CIP revenues were now being funded by SPLOST dollars.
So much, in fact, was the Dougherty County Commission's General Fund CIP Fund under used, that, at some point in the not-so-distant past, county commissioners officially voted to strip the fund of the dedicated property taxes that were assigned to it to generate revenue for the fund.
Now that the county is in the lurch for revenues, Gaines and Sinyard each floated the idea Monday of reallocating at least some of the funding that is in the CIP into the county's general fund and then use SPLOST to fund those CIP items.
The only possible hiccup in that plan lies in the SPLOST law itself. SPLOST is a voter-approved sales tax that funds a voter-approved list of projects. In SPLOST VI, for example, voters approved the renewal of a one-percent sales tax that will go to fund road and infrastructure improvements, as well as funding that will build a new senior citizens center and a new building at Thronateeska Heritage Center.
SPLOST was never intended to be used to support the general budgets of local governments, but Dougherty County Attorney Spencer Lee offered a bit of legal advice that suggests that in certain limited aspects, capital projects that were once funded using property tax dollars, could possibly be funded using sales tax collections.
"The keyword here is 'eligible'," Dougherty County Attorney Spencer Lee said. "SPLOST funding can be used for eligible projects that were approved by the voters."