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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Quorum Court cuts Grant in Aid programs to meet budget

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fulton County Quorum Court made progress at an Oct. 26 meeting, as it worked to cut $100,000 from next year's proposed budget.

But the cost cutting will hit two important community agencies especially hard.

"Grants in Aid, that is one spot where we need to start," suggested Justice of the Peace Jimmy Mahler, during the discussion of how to reduce spending further.

Grants in aid are government funds allocated to non-county agencies, because they provide services which benefit citizens of the county.

A decision was eventually made to cut, by half, grant requests from the Fulton County Conservation Service, the County Co-operative Extension Service and Senior Citizens Centers - a total savings of $34,000.

The $31,210 requested by the County Extension Service was cut to $15,605, and a second request to help pay the office phone service was cut from $3,009 to $1,540.

Three Fulton County Senior Citizen Centers saw their funding request cut from $30,000 to $15,000.

The Fulton County Conservation District will receive $2,600 next year, instead of the requested $5,200 to help fund its programs.

4-H funding was not cut, as one J-P commented there would be too many angry parents if 4-H programs were cut.

After three and a half hours of work on Oct. 17, Justices of the Peace identified only about $22,000 in budget cuts, mostly from the Sheriff's Department budget.

Removing $34,000 in grant in aid requests from the budget brought total cuts to $56,000.

One bit of good news came from County Judge Charles Willett, who expressed optimism the county can save about $23,000 in spending next year, by switching health insurance providers.

Because Blue Cross Blue Shield, the current provider, intends to raise its rates by 18% next year, Willett sought bids from three other companies.

"I got a proposal today," Willett announced. "If we're lucky, it (insurance costs) may be back down to where it is now. It's just a preliminary quote. We should know in about ten days. That will help by $21-$22,000, and we've still got two quotes coming."

The company which made the first bid will, first, give survey forms to county employees to evaluate their overall health and expected health care needs before making the offer final.

Calvin "Buster" Smith offered to reduce his budget by $9,757 next year, by reducing postage expenses by $3,000 and paying $6,757 in employee salaries from his automation fund, state funds that he receives for office expenses and improvements.

During the session, some council members expressed disappointment that other department heads had not responded to requests to cut their budgets further.

"Well, I cut all that I could cut when I presented my budget," County Clerk Vicki Bishop responded. "You can look down there line for line...I'm not speaking for anybody else, but I think everybody is cut to the bone."

"We're not questioning that," said J-P Jim Bickers. "We understand that times are tough, but we also understand we have to find that extra money (to cut)."

During the budget discussions, some J-Ps suggested giving up their salaries, while keeping health insurance benefits. Another suggestion was to "take back the raise given (to employees) two years ago," which was described as a better alternative than employee layoffs.

Neither proposal was acted on.

During the budget meeting, a citizen in attendance suggested the county could save money by having full time employees take at least one day off, without pay, each month.

That suggestion was also not acted on.

With the court stuck, after making about $57,000 in cuts, Judge Willett made a suggestion.

"We'll have the Final Settlement (the county's share of personal property and property tax revenue) by the first of December," said the Judge, "We anticipated a $300,000 Final Settlement in the budget. It could be $375 or $380,000. If it is, we're in good shape (in meeting needed cuts)."

The Judge pointed out a final budget does not have to be passed until the end of the year.

J-Ps agreed that taking a break from budget cutting will allow a determination on insurance coverage and costs, and for the voters' decision on the proposal to fund a new jail by using a portion of an existing sales tax.

"We are going to finalize the budget in December and have all the figures," said Willett. "We'll know exactly what we've got to reach for (as far as budget cuts)."

In an Oct. 27 story in The News about the county's need to cut $100,000 from its proposed budget, an alert reader questioned why the cut is necessary.

The story said the county expected to take in $2,086,875 in 2012, and the proposed budget totaled $1,976,875, $11,000 less than total revenue.

The problem is, the budget shows "anticipated revenue," and there is no certainty all the expected money will actually be received. That is why government bodies usually limit a proposed budget to 80% of expected revenue.

Because money is so tight, Fulton County's budget is based on receiving 90% of expected revenue, but that still requires a $100,000 cut to leave a small cushion, in case anticipated revenue falls short.

Quorum Court will hold its next meeting on Monday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. in the circuit courtroom.

The public is invited to attend.

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