ALBANY, Ga. — Dougherty County Commissioners weighed deep cuts to help balance the FY 2013 Special Services District budget Wednesday, including cutting power to most of the street lights in the unincorporated area and cutting 16 positions from the Dougherty County Police Department.
Described as Plan B, the proposals discussed Wednesday could only happen if the commission decides against a 2-mill tax increase for the residents of the unincorporated area of the county.
Heading into Wednesday's meeting of the Dougherty County Finance Subcommittee meeting, it was expected that the three-commissioner panel would leave the fifth floor of the government center having recommended a budget to the full county commission for consideration.
That didn't happen.
Instead, commissioners voted instead to forward the FY2013 budget without a recommendation.
"I'm not prepared to put more on the backs of our taxpayers today," District 2 Commissioner John Hayes said. "I know the burden that our citizens are already taking and we're about to ask them for another penny in sales taxes with the T-SPLOST. I'm not prepared to ask them to carry another two mills on their property taxes."
Commissioner Ewell Lyle, who has been pushing County Administrator Richard Crowdis to cut spending or find alternative sources of revenue rather than raise taxes, said that one thing he's learned from the discussions is that the unincorporated area lacks the industries or residential components to support itself.
"The Special Services District doesn't have the tax base to support itself. I just don't know what else to do," Lyle said. "I don't want to cut police officers or street lights but a 27 percent increase in the millage rate is just as intolerable."
Crowdis' "Plan B," would allow commissioners to avoid the 2-mill tax increase which would save residents of the unincorporated area about $80 dollars a year for those with $100,000 worth of property. It would also mean heavy cuts to public safety.
Currently, residents of the unincorporated area exclusively pay for the budget of the Dougherty County Police Department, animal control and street lighting in the unincorporated area. The budget also funds two inter-governmental agreements with the city of Albany to provide fire service in the unincorporated area, planning and development services and recreational services.
Of the $7.1 million budgeted for the Special Services District (SSD). Of that total, the DCP is allocated $3.1 million. The county's budget for the SSD provides $3.l1 million to the City of Albany for fire protection in the district.
According to Crowdis, the county could likely save $130,000 by cutting off power to most of the streetlights in the unincorporated area, not counting lights at intersections.
Doing away with animal control would save another $138,000, he said.
But the majority of the cuts needed to bridge the $1,049,000 budget deficit in the SSD would have to come from the DCP. More than $800,000 would be needed from the department, a move DCP Chief Don Cheek said would likely result in the slashing of nearly half his department.
"Cutting 16 positions out of my 40-person department would be devastating for us and for the county," Cheek said. "You would gut the police department if you take 16 positions."
The vote by the committee means that the full county commission will take up the discussion on how best to close the budget gap in the SSD next week. A public hearing on the proposed budgets for Dougherty County has been scheduled for Monday at 10 a.m.
County Commissioner Gloria Gaines, who isn't a member of the finance committee but has sat in on many of the finance committee meetings since arriving on the commission, offered a suggestion Wednesday that would involve soliciting help from Procter & Gamble, the major manufacturer left in the unincorporated area.
Her suggestion would be to go to P&G and ask them for a one-time payment to the county to support the police department, which ultimately serves the massive manufacturer.
"We're just that desperate, it appears," Gaines said. "That's who they depend on and they're not paying their fair share of taxes anyway because the (payment in lieu of taxes) is so reduced."
County officials say that P&G has not paid property taxes on their sprawling Liberty Expressway complex since they came to town. Instead, they've negotiated payments in lieu of taxes to the county and school system.
Those payments, according to county officials, are a fraction of what the company's tax bill would normally be. The breaks were granted by the Payroll Development Authority as an incentive to bring P&G to town and then keep them here.