Macon commissioners whittle away at budget, but tax hike stays

Having already committed to a 1.5 cent tax rate increase to pay for building a new school in the north part of the county, Macon County commissioners were forced to cut departmental budgets to the bone this year in the budget adopted Monday night (June 14).

County Manager Jack Horton’s draft budget has been available since May 24, and since then, the commissioners have met four times in work sessions to discuss changes.

“There’s really no growth in the budget at all,” Horton said. “It’s just trying to hold back on operating expenses and fulfill the commitment we made to the schools.”

The board’s view of that commitment is apparently different from Horton’s. So far they have proposed reducing the $200,000 allocated for capital outlay at schools –– a pot of money that would come in handy if a roof needed fixing –– to nothing. School leaders asked for $800,000.

The decision by commissioners to cut the capital outlay was based on the fact that the board has committed so much money to school improvements in the past two years that everything should be ship shape for now.

Horton’s draft budget came in just slightly higher this year than his proposed budget last year, and that is in part because of one high-priced item a previous board committed to — a $313,000 contribution to an FAA grant that will help pay for the county’s airport runway expansion.

That money will come out of the county’s fund balance, but Commissioner Jim Davis was pushing his fellow commissioners to cut deep enough to reduce the tax increase to 1 cent per $100 of valuation.

In order to accomplish that goal, he suggested the county cut its $413,000 teacher supplement contribution. Davis also suggested that Horton cut another 1 percent from the department budgets to save another $750,000.

“I am adamant in my feeling that we are dealing with a real recession and that all government sectors should share some of that pain,” Davis said.

County Chairman Ronnie Beale and the rest of the commissioners didn’t want to do away with the teacher supplement.

“I’m in support of the teacher supplement for a lot of reasons,” Beale said. “When the county put this in, those teachers put it into their household budgets.”

Beale said trying to find ways to cut deeper was getting difficult, but he liked the idea of sending Horton back to the drawing board in search of another 1 percent.

“We don’t have much wiggle room,” Beale said. “Our job is trying to find ways to postpone purchases and to do everything we can not to cut people.”

Last Friday, the commissioners met for one last work session, and Horton had come up with an additional $821,000 in cuts from across all departments. Still, the tax hike couldn’t be reduced.

“We looked at it, but there was just no way to reduce it to less than 1.5 cents,” Horton said.

Davis had said on Friday he wouldn’t support the budget unless the tax hike came down, and on Monday night the commissioners voted 4-1 to pass a budget that tops out at $42,021,521, just a fraction above last year’s budget total. Davis was the lone dissenting vote.

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