Ware County Faces A Budget That Is ‘Beyond Tight’
By MYRA THRIFT, Staff Writer
Ware County Manager Paul Smith and the entire county commission board are continuing to scratch their heads trying to come up with expenditure cuts for an as-yet-to-be unveiled budget for FY ’16.
During a work session Monday afternoon, Smith told the board they are facing “a very ugly budget” for the coming year. Commissioners wondered aloud how to make enough cuts to be effective without making too much of an impact on departmental budgets like those of the Ware County Sheriff’s Department, the Ware County Emergency Medical Services and other strategic departments.
County officials are looking at a possible budget of more than $20 million and are looking at cutting a possible 4 percent out of some department budgets to make ends meet.
“It is beyond a tight budget,” said Smith.
Commissioner Danny Turner suggested that the sheriff has “a lamb or two he could sacrifice” if push comes to shove. Smith told the board they need to stay focused and dedicated to the purpose of cutting the budget. He noted that the sheriff had already promised to work with the board to try and cut some expenses.
“Right now it is already a tight budget,” said Smith. “We must remain a covey.” Smith noted that people “are going to start calling” to protest the proposed cuts to certain agencies and that they need to remain united.
None of the board members want to raise the millage rate, a rate that will be set on Aug. 12 at a noon called meeting. The budget is to be unveiled shortly and adoption is anticipated at the next regular meeting, the second Monday in August.
Once plans have been finalized, commissioners will run ads in the newspaper with the dates and times of all the upcoming meetings so that citizens may attend.
The board voted in early July to continue working under the 2015 budget until a new one can be finalized.
Commissioners plan to meet Thursday for a budget session and see where that takes them. Smith appears to not have a magic wand for this year’s budget and the entire board doesn’t like the idea of cutting department budgets but are convinced it is the more palatable thing to do, rather than raise taxes, a move to which each one is adamantly opposed.
Budget woes aren’t the only issue frustrating commissioners. They are being bombarded with calls from county residents who are opposed to having their property annexed into the city.
Commissioner Gene Dixon said people who have called him to voice their opinion want things left the way they are and do not want their property annexed into the city limits.
“I don’t know if we have a dog in this fight,” said Dixon. “Why does the city want to do this?”
Dixon, Turner and Victor Aldridge intimated they will stand with the county residents on the issue. Aldridge said folks calling him feel like they don’t have a voice.
Chairman Jimmy Brown pointed out that sewer lines in the area the city wants to annex are under bond debtedness and the city needs to consider that as well before making any kind of final decision.
Another issue commissioners have been hearing about from constituents is the proposed East Bypass, overwhelming numbers of residents are vehemently opposed to the construction of that proposed highway. Most of them believe the Department of Transportation’s money would be better used and the citizens better served with an overpass on State Street instead.
Commissioners decided that following the upcoming DOT open house meeting at Trembling Earth Recreation Complex — Tuesday, Aug. 18 — they will have to take a stand either for or against the bypass.
Dixon said residents in his district want the county to take a stand. Citizens are urged by the board to attend that meeting and let their voices be heard.
“Those who are opposed want it killed. Those who are for it want it to continue. We need to let DOT have their meeting and we will look at it after that,” said Smith.
Aldridge pointed out that “we have to make a decision.”
Commissioners also heard from several mothers and grandmothers whose children attend and benefit from after-school programs at the Memorial Park recreation center. The ladies had heard “street talk” that the program was going to be canceled and appealed to the board to let it continue as it is a “proven success story.”
Commissioners voiced in unison they have not been told that the program was on the chopping block. They promised to look into the matter and have a report at a later date.
They also discussed the employees’ defined benefit plan with minute changes to conform to IRS regulations and the possibility of placing an ATM machine inside the the courthouse to be used when folks need cash to pay fines.
The issue of the city-county comprehensive plan was also mentioned with the Southern Georgia Regional Council being considered to handle the update at a cost of $8,500, which is split between the city and county. No official action was taken on that issue.
During a very brief called meeting held after the work session, the commission gave approval for a beer and wine license for consumption off premises for Jack Rabbit Convenience Store, 1900 Alma Highway (change of owner).
They also approved an aviation ground lease for Caleb Etheridge for Hangar B-4.