Before I dive into the amended FY 24 budget, I’ll provide a quick recap of the budget process to this point. The originally proposed budget was $67 million, which represented a 10% increase over the previous year’s budget and continued the unprecedented growth of the county budget since 2016.
The growth of the county budget since 2016 has been just over 45%, while inflation and actual growth in the county during the same time period are just over 20%. The average annual growth of the county budget since 2016 is 5.7%, and the average annual growth of inflation + population is 2.96%. Each budget year that exceeds the rate of inflation + growth has a compounding effect on future budgets, contributing to a heavier burden on taxpayers.
To put things into perspective, since 2016, the cumulative county general fund appropriations were $50,643,316 higher than if the budgets had been limited to the growth of population and inflation. This discrepancy is simply unacceptable.
This disparity demonstrates the need for restraint and accountability in our financial decisions. In an attempt to rein in spending, I made a motion during the April 18th meeting of the Finance Committee, which passed 3-2, to direct the county administration to redevelop the budget to less than $65,231,000. The $65 million represents our ceiling as it corresponds to the growth of the county + inflation for the previous year.
As we moved forward, there were still issues with the budget. One major point of contention among council members was a new proposed “step and scale” pay system for county employees. While the concept has merit, its proposed implementation fell far short of being satisfactory. If enacted as written, it would have resulted in raises of $20k or more for some department heads, while many of the lowest-paid and hardest-working employees would have received little to nothing, neglecting fair compensation for the dedicated individuals who perform essential work on the ground.
State law required us to pass a budget by July 1st, and although we gained a conservative majority on the council late in the budget process, we decided not to allow this circumstance to serve as an excuse for compromising our values or making hasty decisions.
With this in mind, during the June 6th county council meeting, we adopted the FY 2022/2023 budget for FY 2023/2024 with a 3% pay raise for all employees and a few other simple changes.
During the June 6th meeting, I stated that this approach gives us the necessary flexibility and time to make further amendments to the budget if the county administration and staff demonstrate a genuine need. It will also allow more time for the development of a pay scale that truly aligns with the needs of our hardworking men and women.
Since June 6th, a lot of hard work has gone into developing a budget amendment that serves the people of this county well. The amended budget comes in at $64.4 million (well below population + inflation growth), however, you will not see that number anywhere in the budget as we are changing the way we do business by switching to a more fund-based accounting practice.
We are moving non-operating expenses, such as one-time capital expenses, out of the operating budget and into designated millage funds. With the creation of designated millage accounts, the new general fund operating budget is $58,837,233. If we did not switch to fund based budgeting the amended budget would come in at $64.4 million, which again is well below population + inflation growth and less than the original proposed operating budgets of $67 million abs $65.2 million. I say $64.4 million as a way to compare apples to apples because $5.6 million in expenditures that was reallocated to new fund accounts would have previously been under the operating budget. Those figures are $102,250 in Fire/Emergency Services Capital Vehicle & Equipment, $4,402,000 expenditures in Community Health and Human Services, and $1,093,000 in expenditures from the new Capital Request Fund.
This move marks a substantial step forward in our efforts to ensure the responsible allocation of resources and the efficient utilization of funds. Fund-based accounting is a robust approach that will provide us with a clearer and more comprehensive understanding of how each segment of our county’s operations is financially managed. By categorizing our finances into separate funds, each with its own distinct purpose, we can meticulously track income, expenditures, and financial activities related to specific initiatives. This level of granularity not only aid us in making well-informed decisions but also reinforces our commitment to transparency and accountability.
It ensures that funds are utilized for their intended purposes and prevents commingling of resources. Moreover, fund-based accounting empowers us to better evaluate the effectiveness of our various projects, programs, and services, leading to more efficient resource allocation and improved service delivery.
With fund-based budgeting, we gain a powerful tool that allows us to earmark funds for specific purposes, such as replacement items like fire trucks. By creating dedicated funds for these assets, we ensure that resources are set aside gradually over time, easing the burden on our budget when the time comes for replacements. This approach not only prevents sudden financial strain but also enhances our ability to carry out necessary upgrades and replacements without delay.
As we all know, replacing items like fire trucks is a substantial financial responsibility. The fund-based approach enables us to forecast the expected lifespan of such assets, allocate funds accordingly, and build up reserves over the years. This forward-thinking methodology ensures that when the time arrives to retire an aging fire truck or other vital equipment, we have the financial means readily available. Our commitment to planning and preparedness will ultimately lead to smoother transitions, less disruption to essential services, and increased safety for our residents.
In addition to switching to fund-based budgeting, there are some key differences between this budget and the originally proposed budget:
All employees received at least a 3% pay raise. Under the originally proposed budget, many employees would have received nothing.
New certified deputies are going to $47,500 per year, up from $41,500. Under the original $67 million budget, deputies were going to $43,374. The budget also accounts for pay compaction and gives deputies a pay raise up the rank structure.
All deputies, on top of the initial 3% they just received, are getting a $4,700 raise, up to $75k. Deputies over $75K are only getting the 3%.
New firefighters’ pay is increasing to $40,405, up from $31,065. Under the original $67 million budget, firefighters were going to $34,315. This should significantly help with retention as we currently experience a 60% turnover in firefighters per year. We’re training and certifying firefighters for other departments. As with the original proposed budget, the new amended budget hires 9 additional firefighters to staff the new Bounty Land fire station.
Also, in addition to the 3% across-the-board raises already received, the new budget includes funds to be distributed across other county departments for salary adjustments to meet short-term immediate needs. For long-range planning, the county will be conducting a salary and time-use study this year.
Providing adequate pay for Law Enforcement, First Responders, and other county employees, as well as transitioning to fund-based accounting, aligns seamlessly with our conservative values of responsible governance. It reflects our dedication to ensuring that your hard-earned tax dollars are utilized wisely and effectively while receiving high-quality services.
This will occur with no change in the millage, though millage will be redistributed between accounts, your tax bill will remain the same as the total number of mills will not change.
See the millage disbursement chart below.
See description of county fund accounts.
Capital Projects Funds
Capital projects funds are established to account for financial resources that utilized for capital outlays, including construction or acquisition of major, long-lived general government capital facilities and other capital assets. These funds exclude capital-related outlays for the business-type activities of enterprise funds. Their principal purpose is to ensure the economical and legal expenditure of the resources, but they also serve as cost accounting mechanisms for controlling and accumulating the costs of major capital outlay projects and purchases.
• ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CAPITAL PROJECT FUND – 2.1 MILS-The Economic Development Capital Projects Fund provides for the economic vision for the future of the county. This fund not only utilizes millage, but also amplifies private, federal, local and nonprofit resources.
• BRIDGES AND CULVERTS CAPITAL PROJECTS FUND – 1.0 MIL – The Bridges and Culverts Capital Projects Fund provides for the replacement and repair of bridges and large culverts on County-owned roads.
• CAPITAL EQUIPMENT AND VEHICLE CAPITAL PROJECTS FUND – 2.3 MILS – To provide funding and a plan for vehicle and equipment replacements over the years. This includes all capital vehicles and equipment for all departments except Fire and Emergency Services, which has a separate fund.
• PARKS, RECREATION AND TOURISM CAPITAL PROJECTS FUND – 1.0 MILL – To provide funding for upgrades and new projects for our Parks and Recreation Departments.
• FIRE/EMERGENCY SERVICES CAPITAL VEHICLE, EQUIPMENT AND SMALL CAPITAL PROJECTS FUND (NEW FUND)– 2.0 MILS – To provide funding and a plan for vehicles, equipment and small capital items for the future.
• CAPITAL REQUEST FUND (NEW FUND) – 2.0 MILS– To provide funding for one time capital projects and equipment/software.
Special Revenue Funds
A special revenue fund is a fund used to account for the proceeds of specific revenue sources that are legally restricted to expenditure for specified purposes. GAAP only requires the use of special revenue funds when legally mandated.
• EMERGENCY SERVICES PROTECTION SPECIAL REVENUE FUND – Funding of 2.9 mils from the unincorporated areas of the county to provide grants to independent agencies and basic station expenses for rural Fire Departments, Rescue Squad and Haz-Mat.
• SHERIFF VICTIMS SERVICES SPECIAL REVENUE FUND – To account for the proceeds from Assessments and Surcharges form fines for Victims services. Victims can receive services including Victim Advocacy, Counseling, Emergency Assistance
• SOLICITOR VICTIMS SERVICES SPECIAL REVENUE FUND – To account for the proceeds from Assessments and Surcharges form fines for Victims services. Victims can receive services including Victim Advocacy, Counseling and Emergency Assistance.
• 911 COMMUNICATIONS SPECIAL REVENUE FUND – Funding from E-911 surcharges from the State, Competitive Local Exchange Carriers and AT&T. To support and maintain the 911 Communication center.
• TRI-COUNTY TECHNICAL COLLEGE SPECIAL REVENUE FUND – Legislatively required funding of 3 mils of tax revenue for the Tri-County Technical College operations and capital needs.
• ROAD MAINTENANCE SPECIAL REVENUE FUND – Funding from 2.1 mils of tax revenue and National Forestry Title I funding allocated for maintenance and paving of county roads.
• COMMUNITY HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SPECIAL REVENUE FUND (NEW FUND) – Funding of 7.1 mils of tax revenue to provide Charity Medical and Direct Aid to support the Health and Human Services of the County. This includes Fire/Medical Contribution, Medically Indigent Assistance, Rosa Clark Medical Clinic, OC Board of Disabilities and Special Needs, Anderson Oconee and Pickens Mental Health, Senior Solutions/Lake View Assisted Living, and other organizations for Oconee Support.