James Balch, a resident opposed to tax increases in the county, asks commissioners Monday to abandon an idea to raise the millage rate by 2 mills in the county.
ALBANY Dougherty County Commissioner Ewell Lyle suggested Monday during a budget hearing that the commission should merge the Dougherty County Police Department and Dougherty County Sheriff's Office as a cost-cutting measure.
The suggestion came as a surprise to both Dougherty County Police Chief Don Cheek and Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul, each of whom said that he would need more time to explore the possibility of consolidation to determine if there were any potential cost-savings.
The Dougherty County Commission is working to find ways to spare the residents of the unincorporated portion of the county from receiving a 2-mil increase on property taxes.
The fund that covers the residents of the unincorporated county, the Special Services District Fund, is set to end the current fiscal year with a $260,000 deficit. It will have to be propped up by the general fund, which is paid for by county residents who live within the corporate limits of the city of Albany.
Lyle's suggestion came at a time when commissioners and county staff have been working to put together a viable FY 2013 budget before that fiscal year begins on July 1.
Before Lyle's recommendation, County Administrator Richard Crowdis told commissioners that county staff had managed to scrape up enough cash to avoid forcing county employees to take three unpaid holidays — a move that would have been the equivalent of a 1 percent pay cut.
Crowdis said that Public Works Director Larry Cook had agreed to delay some capital equipment purchases that, coupled with a transfer from the county's capital improvements budget, allowed the county to move $296,000 into the county's general fund, Solid Waste Enterprise Fund and Special Services District Fund to offset the unpaid holidays.
While employees will benefit from the work of the county staff, the commissioners are still wrestling with the political ramifications of a possible tax increase.
Monday morning, commissioners met with a room full of concerned residents who, in no uncertain terms, asked the board to refrain from any kind of tax increase.
"It's important to look at creative ways to fix this. It's too easy to say, 'Let's raise millage rates,'" said Marsha Aaron, who said that she pays $4,000 each year in property taxes.
Randy Tyson, who was one of only a handful of people, including Aaron, to sit through the commission's three-hour budget discussion Monday, urged the county to take another look at its agreements with the city of Albany for any possible savings.
Speaking of the $3.1 million that the county pays in a service-delivery agreement to the city for fire services in the unincorporated area, Tyson said that was too much to spend for just 50 employees.
"That's a lot of money for 50 employees," Tyson said.
Heading into the final two weeks of budget negotiations, Chairman Jeff Sinyard tasked Crowdis with preparing numbers that reflect a combination of incremental budget increases.
Sinyard has broadened the county finance committee's responsibilities so that budget discussions and departmental reviews will carry on throughout the year, rather than start in January. He also pointed to a list of cities with populations that were comparable to that of the unincorporated area and showed how their police and fire budgets compared.
"We've got to have benchmarks that ensure that we're getting a good rate on what we're paying for police and fire services and that we're getting a quality product," Sinyard said. "Of the six cities on this list, we're lower than five of them. I think that show's we're getting a good value. ... If 80 to 90 percent of my business's budget is two items, I'm going to make sure those two items are the best we can get at the lowest possible cost."
The list of cities Sinyard referenced includes mostly Southwest Georgia cities with comparable populations — Tifton, Americus, Brunswick, Moultrie, Thomasville and Milledgeville. Of those six, only Millegdeville had a lower police and fire budget.
Some on the commission are expected to attend a meeting at 9:30 a.m. today. According to Commissioner John Hayes, the meeting will be an informational session on how local governments can reduce costs.