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Commissioners pare down budget
Declining tax revenues forcing county to cut expenses
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The Bryan County Board of Commissioners attempted to further pare down its draft budget for fiscal year 2010 at a work session held Aug. 17 at the Bryan County Sheriff’s Complex in Richmond Hill.

The proposed $16 million general fund budget still has a shortfall of $369,991, said Bryan County Finance Director John Grotheer.

"The 2010 draft budget represents 13 percent less revenues and 11 percent less expenditures than the 2009 amended budget," Grotheer told commissioners.

The draft budget expenses total $16,769,885 and its revenues total $16,399,894, according to Grotheer.

Foreclosures and declining property values have negatively impacted property tax revenues, he added.

Grotheer also said that because of the economic downturn, the county expects to collect less revenues from building permits, the local sales tax, real estate transfer taxes, motor vehicle taxes and court fees.

Based on updated property tax revenue estimates from Bryan County Chief Appraiser Dan Rollf, Grotheer said the county should receive $7.509 million in ad valorem tax for 2010; which is down from the $7.8 million the county received in 2009.

Other fees, like those from alcohol license renewals, are also down this year from last, county officials said.

"Our alcohol licenses (renewals) are down by half over last year," said Bryan County Administrator Phil Jones said. "But the alcohol tax (revenues) are up. More people are drinking at fewer businesses."

Jones also pointed out that the revenue the county collects in building permit fees is down nearly $300,000 from 2006. Building permits brought in $459,000 in 2006, and the county estimates only $150,000 in revenues from building permits for fiscal year 2010, he said.

County officials said they also have reduced expenses by cutting county departments’ budgets, by freezing salaries and by not filling a number of empty county positions, as well as by cutting back on travel and training and equipment purchases.

"Employee health and retirement benefits were kept the same as last year," Grotheer added.

Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed said many departments are challenged to provide increased demand for services with less money in their budgets.

"The library asked for a $10,000 increase in their budget, but instead it (last year’s budget total) was cut by $10,000," Burnsed said. "Visits to our libraries in Richmond Hill and Pembroke have increased. Part of that is because more people are using the library’s computers to search for jobs."

Commissioners discussed what more could be cut from the budget, and entertained suggestions that some service fees, such as curbside garbage pickup, could be increased.

"We have not increased business license fees in over 10 years," Burnsed said.

Jones said the minimum business license fee is $90, and that license fees are based on the number of workers a business employs.

They also broached the topic of furloughs.

Bryan County Commissioner Rick Gardner said he would be willing to approach the county’s constitutional officers and suggest they take a furlough day, to help out the county in its "budget crunch."

Burnsed said if the commission asks constitutional officers to furlough for a day, then perhaps the commission can give up a month’s salary.

County commissioners ended the session stating they would be reluctant to raise taxes when so many residents are already struggling financially.

"If we raise taxes, people will say, ‘My income hasn’t gone up and I have to cut expenses,’" Burnsed said.

The next regular county commission meeting will be held at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 1, at the Bryan County Courthouse in Pembroke.

However, a called meeting on the proposed budget will likely be scheduled before Sept. 1.

Jones said the county’s goal is to adopt a budget by the end of September, so the millage rate can be set. Property tax bills are scheduled to be mailed out in October.

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