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Commission to hear from public on budget

By Justin Boron

jboron@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners will have its first hearing today for a budget that increased by 1.2 percent over the last year, with County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell still pledging to do all he can to avoid a tax hike.

The county commission was supposed to meet Monday for a discussion of the budget. But the board canceled the meeting amid concerns that the public had not been notified properly.

Bell said he would reschedule the meeting if commissioners requested it.

The $1,664,119 in added funds this year is about $700,000 less than last year's increase.

Bell said the conservatism in his "zero-based" budgeting strategy was driven by his commitment to fiscal responsibility.

For example, instead of using Sports Utility Vehicles, he said he chose more economical vehicles to cut down on the $1.2 million spent in gas last year.

But Bell also said the moderate increase stemmed partly from some unforeseen expenses that could come in the next year.

One of them is the county's insurance premium, which could go up from $80,000 to $240,000, Bell said.

The county also would add only 43 new positions this year whereas it added 62 the prior year. Most of the positions would be added in this budget to staff the new aquatic center.

A change in its vehicle replacement policy allowed county finance officials to budget replacement costs at $1.3 million less than last year.

A reorganization of the Board of Commissioners' office also would come out of the proposed budget. Bell has proposed the addition of a public relations specialist and a constituent services coordinator. The two new positions would be paid $55,000 and $60,000 respectively.

The addition of an office manager and an administrative assistant and an executive assistant coupled with three other position deletions would result in a net increase of two employees for the office, according to the most recent budget proposal.

The staff attorney's office may see some changes in the budget too. An extra staff attorney with $82,042 proposed salary is expected to help offset the cost of litigation that traditionally has been contracted to an outside firm.

And a proposed environmental judge to be paid $77,589 would enable the county to take stronger action against people guilty of code violations.

"We have grown sufficiently that we need to look at a judicial officer," Bell said.