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Commissioners debate accuracy of county budget

— Clayton County commissioners debated this week whether the amount of money from the county’s reserves needed to balance the county’s proposed fiscal year 2014 budget is greater than officials have let on.

Chief Financial Officer Ramona Thurman presented the proposed $172.8 million budget to the commission during a public hearing Tuesday. Thurman said the budget has been cut by 10 percent because of a 3 percent decrease in the county’s tax digest.

The county will also lose $3 million in LOST funds because of renegotiations with its cities, $1 million by ending the SRO contract with the school system and $1 million in Georgia Department of Corrections reimbursements.

The budget cut amounts to a $19.6 million reduction in expenditures. Despite making cuts though, Thurman said the county still must use $5 million from its reserve fund to balance the budget. Commissioner Sonna Singleton questioned whether that would be enough to balance the budget.

“Are we hiding a much bigger hit to our reserves?” singleton said.

Commission Chairman Jeff Turner denied there was any hidden transfers of money from the fund.

“Let me assure you there is no hidden agenda,” Turner said.

The county’s base millage rate will remain at 20.953 mills and the fire fund rate will stay at 4.4 mills. However, Thurman said the county will have a higher sales tax credit, which means the net property millage rate residents will have to pay for the county government portion of their property taxes is 14.549 mills. That is slightly lower that the 14.912-mill net rate residents paid in fiscal year 2013.

The commission will vote Tuesday on whether to adopt the budget. The budget is available in the county’s libraries, and online at claytoncountyga.gov and news-daily.com.