A proposed conservative budget and new growth should keep Lumpkin County’s taxpayers paying about the same amount as last year.
“The budget we are proposing is slightly more than 2020, but we expect we will be able to roll back the millage rate due to growth in the digest,” said Finance Director Abby Branan.
The county budget was set at $21,661,340 for 2020. That will increase to $22,411,803 for 2021, partly due to an estimated $434,000 in operating expenses connected to the aquatic center, which is proposed to open next year.
Budget talks began with discussion of the new aquatic center.
No funds were included in the 2020 budget to pay for pool operations.
“At the closure of the former county pool facility, the pool manager and 10 lifeguard positions were temporarily defunded, pending construction of the new facility,” said County Manager Stan Kelley.
Double that number will be needed to man the new aquatic center, since there are two pools. Kelley plans to hire a full time manager/maintenance technician. Other employees will be seasonal, including 20 lifeguards, four supervisors; two gate cashiers; and four concessions workers.
Additionally, there are insurance, heating and other maintenance costs.
“I’m optimistic the income will come close to meeting the expense the first year,” Kelley said. “We are estimating $200K revenue from admissions and gate passes. We expect an additional $50K in rentals, $100K in concessions and $50K from swim lessons. I think there will be some additional revenue streams forth coming. Once I get the pool manager on-board, I will be tasking that person to develop additional revenue generating programs at the pool venue.”
Another new expense includes picking up a portion of the salaries paid to firefighter/EMTs previously paid by a SAFER grant.
The grant paid 75 percent of salary and the average cost of insurance for nine firefighter/EMTs for two years—2019 and this year. The county picks up the remaining 25 percent.
Next year the grant will only pay 35 percent of the cost, leaving $323,031 for the county to pay.
PARKS & REC
Parks & Rec’s 17 part time employees will see a bump is salary in 2021. The $3-plus change raise would allow Parks & Rec Manager Wade Chandler to fill all 17 positions, “Which almost never happens,” he said. “We have a difficult time recruiting and training quality staff for our after school and summer camp programs. We lose them to go work retail, fast food or food service, where they can make more money than we pay.”
The county starts part timers at Parks & Rec at $7.69 per hour. If they stay a year, they may get a merit increase, which still puts their hourly wage at less than $8, Chandler said.
“Most of our staff are college students in the education field. We’re not trying to make any college students rich, but we think we owe it to our kids to have the best quality staff we can, staff that make things exciting for our kids.”
Also included in the 2021 budget is annual merit pay. That, Branan said, was “one of the objectives” of the budget committee. “Our goal was to present a budget that reflects the needs of the departments, preserve service levels and continue annual merit pay while remaining conservative in preparation for the unknown long term economic impact from the the pandemic.”
Several requests will not be funded, unless the Board of Commissioners decide otherwise. They will be meeting with department heads and elected officials later this week to discuss their requests.
Magistrate Judge Randy Pruitt said he was “not holding my breath” when he asked for an additional $3,500 from the county in the 2021 budget. He needs the money, he said, to pay for a private attorney to act as a public defender.
Magistrate Court is now able to charge and hear many misdemeanor cases. However, Pruitt said, “while the Public Defender’s Office does represent criminal defendants in Magistrate Court for committal hearings [probable cause hearings], it is their position that they cannot represent these defendants in order to finalize their cases here—for the entry of a plea, for a bench trial or for sentencing. [And] a criminal defendant has the right to an attorney and the right to have counsel appointed if he or she cannot afford to hire private counsel.”
Pruitt has been paying private attorneys to act as public defenders out of the court’s budget, but thinks the additional fine money he’s been sending to the Board of Commissioners would pay for the requested $3,500.
“I think it would pay for itself,” he said. “If I can’t provide a defendant with a defense attorney, then I have to send the case to Superior Court. Many of the misdemeanor cases that come before Magistrate Court can be dealt with in 45-90 days. In Superior Court it could take one-to-two years.”
CLERK OF SUPERIOR COURT
Clerk of Court Rita Harkins requested two positions—an administrative assistant and a criminal court disposition transmittal clerk. As justification she attached a long list of duties for each position.
“Each year there is definitely an increase of the workload on each employee and requirements to be met by state laws. The one criminal clerk’s duties have been divided among three employees for the last five or six years now,” Harkins said. “Since I became Clerk in 2009, there has never been a designated administrative assistant to aid in the streamlining of direct administrative tasks of the Clerk of Courts office.”
Other items not funded in the proposed budget include:
• security upgrades for the Justice Center
• a promotion/pay upgrade for a Deputy Tax Commissioner
• Funding for a public defender in the Magistrate Court
• a vehicle for the Tax Assessor’s office
• a portion of the radios requested by E911
E911 requested 50 hand-held radios. (Not the ones used in the county-wide radio system.) Ten have already been purchased this year. Twenty are included in the proposed budget for next year, and the remaining 20 for the following year.
“This is in an effort to stagger the purchases and prevent mass replacement in a single budget year,” Branan said.
Meetings with department heads are scheduled for Thursday, 1 p.m. and Friday, 9 a.m. for those who wish to make a final plea for non-approved requests. The meetings will take place in the 2nd Floor Executive Conference Room. Meetings are open to the public.