LEESBURG -- All five members of the Lee County Commission attended the opening round of budget hearings Wednesday where the commission's Budget Committee will work with department managers to whittle some $1.697 million from department requests.
The committee, comprising Chairman Bill Williams and overall Commission Chair Ed Duffy, is working to bring the FY 2012-13 budget in at $21.9 million, a $769,000 increase over the current budget.
"This budget actually turned out to be a little tougher than the last couple," Williams said during a break in the hearings. "It's an election year, and we have five elections to finanace, plus we have to staff the (new) library/conference center.
"Retail tax collections are up only slightly here, but expenses have gone way up. With things like increases in gas prices, we've stayed basically static."
Duffy noted that, for the first time during the current commission's tenure, the county will most likely have to use reserve funds to balance the budget.
"Thank God we've had surpluses that allowed us to build up our reserves over the last couple of years," Duffy said. "To balance this budget without a tax increase, we're most likely going to have to use those reserve funds."
Tax Commissioner Susan Smith had asked the committee for $361,436 to run her office during the next fiscal year, but the committee reduced that total by $7,870, to $353,566. Smith's request that $500 that had been cut from her $2,000 Education, Training and Travel line item be restored was granted.
"We have big changes in motor vehicle (taxes) this year, so (staff members) really need to go to those classes," Smith said. "I've requested that the state hold some classes here, and they said they'd put me on their list. If they do, we wouldn't need the funds, but there's no guarantee that they will."
Smith asked why the $10,500 that had been allocated for office improvements in the last budget had not been utilized to make the improvements, and County Administrator Tony Massey told her that money was included in the county's Maintenance budget.
"Is it my responsibility to see that this is being done?" Smith asked, and Commissioner Betty Johnson responded, "Yes, it is."
The office improvements sought by Smith include glass walls around clerks' desks that would provide a barrier between the clerks and the public. Smith showed the committee a photograph of a customer leaning over into a clerk's office space and played a recorded phone call from an angry resident that she deemed "threatening."
"(These repairs) desperately need to get done," Smith said.
Massey said he would follow up with Maintenance Supervisor John Patrick to make sure the project moves forward.
The Budget Committee actually added some $365,000 to the County Commission's $971,286 budget request, but that money represents a contingency fund for employee salaries that may be impacted by a wage survey expected to be completed in the next two weeks.
The committee trimmed $8,900 from Massey's $533,313 request, which included a substantial increase in water utilities.
"To clarify, we've been told that the new meters being installed in the city could double or even triple water bills," Lee Finance Director Heather Kittrell said.
Williams said he did not expect bills to increase that much.
The Budget Committee also trimmed $13,600 from Information Technology Director Jason Schultz's $206,768 request; $12,652 from County Extension Agent Doug Collins' $89,731 figure, and cut $5,000 from Kay Brooks' $15,000 request for the county's mental health budget.
Hearings continue at 1:30 p.m. today with meetings scheduled to discuss Juvenile Court, Emergency Medical Services, Superior Court, Utility Services, the Utility Authority, and the Department of Family and Children Services budgets.
Lee County Clerk Christi Dockery said copies of the proposed FY 2012-13 budget are available for inspection at the downtown Leesburg Library branch and at the commission's administrative offices on Starksville Avenue. Past budgets may also be viewed online at the Georgia Department of Accounts' website (www.audits.ga.gov/) and on the Carl Vinson Institute of Government's site (https://ted.cviog.uga.edu/financial-documents/index.php?q=docs).