Fee increase hinders Lee budget process

LEESBURG, Ga. -- LLEESBURG — Lee County Commission Budget Committee Chairman Bill Williams, himself a CPA, noted Wednesday during the opening of hearings on the county’s proposed $21.9 million FY 2012-13 budget that the process is fluid and ever-changing.

Williams’ comment might have come straight out of “Budget 101,” but it proved prophetic Thursday on the second day of meetings at the T. Page Tharp Governmental Building.

The Budget Committee (Williams and Commission Chairman Ed Duffy) had trimmed $750 from Utility Services Director LeClaire Bryan’s $2,281,908 request, and Bryan’s session was all but finished when she dropped a bomb: The county’s solid waste collection provider, Veolia Environmental Services, sent a letter to Bryan indicating its plan to increase charges on each customer by 84 cents.

“This process changes every day,” Williams said. “Veolia has the right, by contract, to adjust rates, and they’re saying the cost of gasoline is forcing them to go up. We have to find a way to work that cost into our budget, and it’s a pretty significant cost.”

Indeed, Lee Finance Director Heather Kittrell told the committee current garbage collection numbers indicate the increase would add almost $214,000 in costs to the county.

“That’s why this process is so difficult,” Duffy said. “We’ve got to find a way to account for the additional costs even though we’re not planning a tax increase or a rate increase on garbage collections.”

The committee also had to work “built-in” increases of $20,000 for overtime (if requested additional personnel is added) and $850 on a monitor maintenance contract into Emergency Medical Services Director Bobby Watkins’ budget request of $2,134,286, which the commissioners had hoped to trim by $28,750.

“I did not request additional overtime funding; that’s built into our contract if we add the personnel,” Watkins said. “We are responsible for maintenance of the six $25,000 monitors donated by Phoebe (Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany), and that maintenance contract we have is important. We had repairs on one monitor that would have cost $2,500, but (the repairs) came under the maintenance contract.

“They’ve gone up on the cost by $850, and I learned about that after I’d turned in my budget requests.”

The Budget Committee also reinstated more than $9,000 of the $12,921 in cuts it had planned to make on Juvenile Court Judge Lisa Rambo’s $63,171 request. The cuts had been based on reimbursements well below the level budgeted for the current fiscal year, but Rambo said the numbers did not reflect the amount utilized by the court in Lee County.

Kittrell said the county pays a pro rata share of costs along with the other five counties in the judicial circuit.

The committee found $101,100 in reductions from Public Works Director Mike Sistrunk’s $1,815,028 request, most planned for puchase of a dump truck and bucket truck.

“There was a need,” Sistrunk said after the hearing, “but we made repairs this year on the equipment we have, and the budget was too tight to justify the purchases. Maybe next year will be a different story.

“I’m pleased with our budget and the budget process. I think (commissioners) know I’m a penny pincher, and I’m not going to ask for anything I don’t think we need. I know what it’s like to be poor, and that’s the way I try to use taxpayers’ money.”

Budget hearings will continue today with meetings scheduled for county Tax Assessor Joe Wright, Magistrate Court Judge Jim Thurman, Fire Department Chief James Howell and Elections Superviser Veronica Johnson.