LEESBURG, Ga. -- Greg Frich, the incoming Lee County Commissioner from District 5, is calling on department heads and elected officials to meet and develop a list of priorities for spending any discretionary money in the county's next budget year.
Frich serves on the two-member budget panel with Commission Chairman Rick Muggridge of District 4, who appointed Frich committee chairman.
During the initial meeting of the Budget Committee Wednesday, called to discuss deadlines for preparing this year's budget, Frich said he wants department heads and constitutional officers to meet early in the process.
Ideally, Frich said, the county department leaders will become more aware of the county's overall financial needs and will come to a consensus on how to spend tax dollars.
Lee Finance Director Heather Kittrell said Frich's idea is good in principle but may be difficult in reality, noting that department heads may be unlikely to sacrifice needs in their own department to accommodate needs in another department.
Frich persisted and said the budget committee is in a position to offer the department heads and constitutional officers an incentive.
"We can tell them that cooperation is needed," Frich said. "If not, nothing says we have to spend discretionary funds (on the new budget requests). We can make an argument for spending any growth in the revenue just on debt reduction."
Muggridge and Frich plan to visit with department heads and constitutional officers to discuss the budget.
Lee County commissioners are expected to have additional funds to work with this year because of a slight growth in the tax digest and a more favorable split in Local-Option Sales Tax funds.
Muggridge noted that about 80 percent of the budget is controlled by fixed costs. The discretionary spending is where the "food fighting" begins, he said.
In terms of debt reduction, County Administrator Tony Massey said the commission could consider retiring the debt on land the development authority acquired near the Toyota dealership and the IHOP restaurant off Ledo Road. The debt is about $2.2 million, he said.
The county currently pays about $250,000 a year on that debt.
Former Commissioner Bill Williams, who has been a major force in developing the county budget for the past four years, was invited to attend Wednesday's meeting and was commended by both Muggridge and Frich for helping smooth the transition.
"Some will pad their budget request and some will give you an honest budget," Williams advised Muggridge and Frich. "You have to distinguish between the two."
Lee's overall budget this fiscal year is $31.1 million. The general fund is $22.1 million. The county has about $7.5 million in a contingency fund, a total that figures out to a percentage recommended for governmental agencies. Massey said accountants suggest having three to four months of operating expenses in reserve.
Assuming the whole County Commission approves the budget calendar at its Jan. 22 meeting, Massey and Kittrell will distribute budget documents to elected officials, department heads and outside agencies by Feb. 11.
Budget requests from these groups are due back to Kittrell by Feb. 25. The requests will be consolidated and given to county commissioners by March 35.
The commission will meet with those seeking funds between April 15-26. A proposed budget is expected to be developed by June 3. A public hearing will be held on June 11.
Adoption of the budget for Fiscal Year 2013-2014 is expected by June 25 for the year beginning July 1.