County finance director Angela Jackson
Clayton County Commissioners unanimously approved a fiscal year 2013 operating budget, on Tuesday, with expenditures that are nearly $114.9 million less than the expenditures for the fiscal year that ends later this month.
If revenue and expenditure projects hold true through the upcoming fiscal year, the county should end up spending $268.7 million in what officials are saying is a balanced total fiscal year 2013 operating budget. That includes $170.8 million in expenditures for its general fund alone.
The size of the total county operating budget for the fiscal year set to end on June 30 was $383.6 million.
County budget documents show Clayton County is facing an expected 9.2-percent — or $608.6 million — decrease in its net assessed digest value, from $6.59 billion in the current fiscal year, to a proposed value of $5.98 billion in fiscal year 2013.
County Finance Director Angela Jackson added, however, that some of the lost tax revenues have been offset by higher Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) rebate revenues and new revenues from a School Resource Officer contract with the county school system.
She added the county also reduced electrical utility and legal expenses, and had safety officers going around to departments to eliminate safety issues in an effort to reduce on-the-job injuries to employees.
The result was a balanced budget that allowed the county to avoid any draconian cuts.
“There will be no reduction in services, no pay cuts for employees and no furlough days for employees,” Jackson told commissioners.
The issue of property taxes still remains to be dealt with, however, because a proposal to lower the county’s millage rate by 0.895 mills is not expected to come up for a vote by the county commission until next month.
Jackson reminded commissioners on Tuesday that the county got a higher millage rate credit because its LOST rebate revenues went up (they are expected to hit $36.15 million, versus $33.92 million for the current fiscal year), while property tax revenues decreased.
She also opened the door to the possibility that the millage rate decrease could be larger than previously discussed.
“This budget contains a tax reduction of about 0.895 mills, and that was of the preliminary digest,” the finance director said. “The digest continues to drop [in terms of tax revenues], so by the time we have a final digest prepared for adoption, in July, it may be as much as  mill.”
She later added: “Every time I have received a preliminary [tax digest], it has dropped a little bit more.”
That prompted Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell to urge his fellow commissioners to consider just going ahead with implementing a 1-mill property tax decrease, regardless of how much further revenues from the digest fall. If the commission did that, it would mean the county’s governing body would be repealing nearly one-quarter of the controversial 5-mill tax increase commissioners narrowly approved last year.
“Since it may be enough to get an additional tax decrease, I would like you to consider giving the taxpayers a mill back, which would cost [the county] around $420,000, in addition to the 0.895 [mills],” Bell said.
But, despite some of the extra revenues from school resource officers, and lower personnel and legal costs, Jackson warned commissioners that it was not easy balancing every part of the county budget. “We had one significant issue in this budget — or the most major issue I should say — and that is the Fire Fund,” she explained.
Because of the decreases in the county’s property tax digest, the county’s Fire Fund — which pays for local fire protection — was facing a shortfall of approximately $5 million.
Jackson said property taxes make up 93 percent of the fund’s revenue, while personnel costs make up 89 percent of its expenditures.
The finance director said the county considered one plan that included conducting 72 days of rolling brownouts at each fire stations in the county, and laying off 36 employees, in an effort to make up for the funding shortfall.
She added that county officials also considered a different route where they moved money over from the county’s general fund to make up for the decreasing property tax revenues.
In the end, county leaders opted instead to go with a mixture of the two routes.
“The fiscal year 2013 proposed budget includes an expenditure reduction of $1 million, a hit on the Fire Fund fund balance of $1.5 million, and a hit on the general fund balance of approximately $2.5 million, and managing vacancies,” Jackson said.
County Fire Chief Jeff Hood said the expense cuts will not include the rolling brownouts that had been considered, however. He promised to release a statement on Wednesday that would further explain what expenses would be cut to balance the Fire Fund budget.