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County's proposed budget doesn't include property tax increase
Commissioners held 2 public hearings Tuesday to allow citizens to review FY 2011 budget
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    Bulloch County Commissioners held two public hearings Tuesday to allow citizens to review the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2011, which translates into no tax increase for county property owners, said Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch.
    The two hearings were held at 8:30 a.m. during the commissioners’ meeting, and at 6:30 p.m., so citizens with varying work schedules would be able to choose which hearing they attended, he said.
    The total budget is $60.6 million, with a general fund budget of $30.5 million, Couch said as he gave a Powerpoint presentation regarding the budget. The proposed budget will use no fund reserves, has $400,000 contingency funds, and the fund reserve for the county is at 22 percent of the total budget. Ideally, it would be 25 percent, but 22 percent — $6.8 million —  is close, he said.
    Having a balanced budget with no tax increase is a blessing, Couch said, but challenges are ahead. Legislation is in the works to have counties assess foreclosure property at its sale price instead of fair market value, and revenues are down regarding ad valorem taxes. The recession persists, unemployment is up, consumer confidence is still down, and sales taxes and building permits are lower than in the past due to the economy, he said.
    Newly implemented occupational taxes will help, but state funding has been slashed. And, “It is still unknown how the health care reform will affect the county,” he said.
    But with department heads and other county employees reining in spending and cutting as much expense as possible, the county still managed to propose a balanced budget with a considerable fund reserve, he said.
    Services offered to citizens will remain at the same level and quality, he said.
    This past year, Bulloch County saw lowered ISO (Insurance Services Office) ratings for most areas, two new fire substations (on Banks Dairy Road and Nevils-Groveland Road); implemented the reverse 911 system; made improvements in public works and ramped up its employee safety program, Couch said.
    There is now a para-transport service, beginning July 1; Splash in the Boro, the county’s water park which has proven to be lucrative, has been expanded; the Luetta Moore Park community building nears completion and the  Statesboro-Bulloch County Animal Shelter is almost completed as well, he said. The county also implemented the new Board of Elections office.
    There have been improvements to the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport, and public services overall have been improved, he said.
    Couch said while Fiscal Year 2011 looks good, he is still concerned about 2012. While the Bulloch County Jail is currently bringing in a significant amount of revenue by housing federal prisoners, he doesn’t want to bank on that, he said.
    “We will work on strategic cost savings plans, as well as pursue revenue by grants, treasury management, and revenue audits,” he said. “And we’d like to promote economic development to grow the tax base.”
    Implementing a new DUI court with an administrator will ease the need for an assistant solicitor, which eliminates a possible $90,000 expense, but does add back an expense of $33,000, he said. However, there is a $10,000 grant that will offset that expense.
    “We can survive this if we tighten up and hunker down for at least one more year,” he said. “We’re in good financial condition.”
    Commissioners will meet again June 22 at 8:30 a.m. for a special called meeting in order to adopt the budget, he said.

Other business
    In other business, commissioners approved a consent agenda that included a contract for July 4 fireworks; intergovernmental agreements with GEFA and the Georgia Forestry Commission; and other service agreements. They also approved a bid for work to enclose a portion of the Bulloch County Judicial Annex.
    Commissioners also heard Junior Lott, who owns Lot’s Produce, speak about a concern he has with the county sign ordinance. Lott moved his produce stand, once located on Harville Road where he grows the crops, to an old truck stop on U.S. 301 South. The sign he used to advertise his fresh produce violated the county’s sign ordinance, and he asked commissioners what kind of sign he could use.
     “Produce waits for no one,” he said. “I understand we need a sign ordinance, but I need to sell my produce.”
    Small signs cannot be seen by passing drivers, a d he asked for help with finding a way to comply while also meeting his needs. “What can we do today?” he asked after Bulloch County Commission chairman Garrett Nevil explained the current sign ordinance is being reviewed and possibly changed in the future.
    Lott, a former construction company owner, started farming and growing vegetables and fruits after the economy affected the construction business. His son Cole had already been selling produce on a limited basis, and Lott decided to expand the efforts as a family business.
    “We don’t want your business to hurt,” Couch said. After several other commissioners expressed a concern for Lott’s plight, they suggested he work with staff attorney Jeff Akins to work out a feasible way to implement signs that did the job Lott needs, but complies with the current ordinance.

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