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Board to vote on budget next week

By Justin Boron

A decision on how to proceed with about $3 million worth of budget amendments awaits the Clayton County Board of Commissioners Tuesday when it is scheduled to adopt the county budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Most of the proposals stem from the sheriff's and court officials' protests of a preliminary version of the budget, which they said ignored extra workload brought on by rising crime.

Whether to grant the officials their extra funds presents questions for commissioners concerning what impact the added money would have on taxes as well as what outcome the money would have for the county if it loses two of its top taxpayers, Delta Air Lines and Hertz Rent A Car.

At a budget work session Tuesday, county finance and tax officials expressed uncertainty about whether the county could depend on the tax revenue of Delta, which is threatened by bankruptcy and Hertz, which may move to Fulton County.

County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said adding more money to the budget now could make the county's financial situation worse if those factors become a reality.

"I plead with you to hold the line on this budget," he said.

By the meeting's end, it was unclear how the commissioners would deal with the $2.9 million that the sheriff, chief magistrate, district attorney, and solicitor general say is the bare minimum that they need to handle crime in the county.

Several possibilities exist.

The county could raise taxes, which Bell pledged he would not do.

Currently, the proposed budget would cut taxes by $2.1 million based on preliminary estimates of property values, said Dan Martin, director of finance.

County Commissioner Wole Ralph said the county could use the planned tax decrease to meet some of the court officials' and sheriff's demands.

Also, Bell gave up a $60,000 constituent services coordinator position proposed in the county commission office's budget. He proposed the money for that position be returned to the county reserve.

Ralph said that money could be used to help with the amendments as well.

County Commissioner Carl Rhodenizer said the court officials and sheriff should get what they asked for.

"I still feel those adjustments should be made," he said.

However, Bell asked that the commissioners adopt the budget without the amendments, then review the budget later when the county's financial future becomes clearer.

Any changes to the budget would require three commissioners' votes.

Sheriff Victor Hill and District Attorney Jewel Scott have floated the possibility of a lawsuit if their budget demands are not met.