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Fulton County Quorum Court to make budget cuts

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fulton County Quorum Court members show the strain of trying to find ways to prop up the county's sagging general fund, toward the end of a four hour meeting on June 11. One reason the county is having trouble paying its bills is the fact fewer people are paying their property taxes early this year. Photo by Richard Irby
Fulton County government will struggle to pay its bills this month. An immediate solution to the General Fund shortfall would be for more people to pay their property taxes now -- instead of waiting until the Oct. 10 deadline.

That was the concensus of Quorum Court members at the end of a four hour meeting on Monday, June 11, in which they discussed ways to cut spending.

The county began June with $81,992 in the General Fund. It needs $156,000 to pay its bills -- although in recent months county expenses have ranged from $165,000 to $185,000. While sales tax, court fines and other revenue will come in this month, there is fear the county may have trouble meeting its June 29 payroll.

"You've got to do something now," Treasurer Donna Hall told Justices of the Peace. "I've been telling you for months that we are spending more than we are taking in."

But, as J-Ps and County Judge Charles Willett began discussing how to cut the budget, it was clear there would be no easy answers.

"The budget has pretty well been cut. We've cut paper and supplies. We've cut as much as we can," J-P Jim Marler said, referring to spending cuts imposed as the new budget was finalized last fall.

"There's not a lot we can do, unless we cut employees," J-P Michael Barnett added.

While cutting the number of hours courthouse employees work or eliminating some jobs was discussed, those cuts would not save much money. There are only nine courthouse employees who are not elected officials and, according to the judge, their average salary is probably around $9 an hour.

County Road Department employees are paid from the Road Fund, not county general.

At one point, discussion turned to eliminating several jobs Quorum Court approved for the Sheriff's Department several years ago, at former Sheriff Walter's Dillinger's request.

Sheriff Buck Foley was not at the meeting, so a recess was declared so that Foley could be contacted to come in.

As J-Ps discussed possible Sheriff's Department cuts, Foley said, "I cannot run the jail on that (amount). I would have to cut jail operations."

That brought the discussion back to one glaring reason county finances are so tight this year -- fewer people are paying their property taxes early.

"In April and May, we received $36,000 less in property tax revenue than we did in April and May of last year," Treasurer Hall said.

Faye Tomlinson, who was named to fill in as Tax Collector for the rest of the year due to Buster Smith's retirement, and Michalle Watkins, who will become Collector in January, discussed their efforts to set up a system that would allow them to collect taxes over the phone by accepting credit and debit card payments.

According to Watkins, Fulton County property owners who do not live in the area have often mentioned they want to pay by phone.

Watkins also said the office is trying to get the word out that people do not have to pay their property taxes in one payment. They can make monthly payments if they wish.

J-P Chris Newberry admitted that he, like many people, is in the habit of paying his property taxes in October, at the very last minute.

"Maybe people would pay earlier if they actually knew how bad we (county government) needed it to get back on track -- so we don't have to cut jobs," Newberry said.

J-P Barnett was sold by the appeal. "I'm going in tomorrow and paying mine," he announced with a smile.

J-Ps also discussed the need to raise the millage on personal property and real estate -- pointing out, at 3 mills for county general, the tax is lower than most surrounding counties and has not been raised in years.

J-P Jack Haney suggested switching the county's sales tax allocation so that 60 percent goes into county general fund and 40 percent to the road fund. Currently the tax is split 50-50.

Judge Willett strongly opposed that suggestion pointing out that, the past couple of years, the road department has given all of its sales tax share to the general fund to help it cover shortages late in the fiscal year.

"You've already taken $200,000 from the road fund," Willett said. "You're going to break it next."

According to Willett, if the county can get by the next couple months, it should be able to get through the year. That is because property tax payments always pick up in September and October, bringing more money to the general fund and, in late December and January, the final settlement from the state will help provide a financial cushion.

"What's our option? Layoffs? Salary cuts?" J-P Barnett asked, as the discussion neared the four hour mark.

Instead of making a decision, Quorum Court decided it and elected officials would take a break to look more closely at current spending and what can be cut.

They plan to meet in a special session in two weeks to make final financial decisions -- sooner if county general's balance keeps sliding.

"Tell everyone to help out by paying their (property) taxes," Willett said as the meeting ended.

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The county has funding issues. What's new?

Raising our property taxes again is not an issue. It seems like every two weeks some local school is raising millage for the "children". We are pillaged out. NO MORE MILLAGE!!!!

Property values have dropped in half in the last couple of years. However, every other year, the paid assessors show up and find more to tax us on.

I find it strange we are in the middle of the worst recession since the great depression and the paid assessors are still finding ways to find added "value" every year.

Why don't we take the money we pay them and balance the budget?

More property taxes and more millage is not the answer.

We cannot take any more millage. We are a poverty-stricken county and another millage would have our homes and family farms being sold at the county court house steps.

Don't believe me; look at the record number of delinquent tax records and properties sold for back taxes this year. There was almost a whole newspaper full of your family, friends and neighbors property in there, folks.

We cannot take any more property tax.

JP's, County Judge and Mayors,

If you want to help your people out why don't you get us some jobs, business, and revenue in Fulton County?

Instead of robbing us with forced assessments and selling of our friends and neighbors property off at the court house steps when we can't pay the yearly assessment increases in the middle of the worst recession since the great depression. Our people, your people are hurting.

Putting us in the paper when we can't pay our increased property taxes because we don't have jobs anymore is not the answer.

Or maybe going "wet".

Does anyone realize how much sales tax could be generated by not having to drive to the county line to reach a package store? We could even be green saving gas and tires by not having to drive to the county line to reach a package store.

-- Posted by Bill T on Thu, Jun 14, 2012, at 10:11 PM

Your article said you are trying to get the word out that taxes can be made in monthly or some type of payments. I have lived here for years and never heard that. Why don't you say that when people call to assess or print that on the same piece of paper the tax statement is sent on, if it is stated on the tax statement that payments can be made then you have notified everyone in the county and you won't be still just trying.

-- Posted by Mawmaw20 on Tue, Jun 19, 2012, at 11:24 AM

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