County budget up $600K but no millage hike

Editors Note: This is a corrected version of the story that ran in the June 14 edition of The Dahlonega Nugget. We apologize for any confusion the original story may have caused.

The proposed 2018 budget Lumpkin County Manager Stan Kelley presented to the BOC last week is up by about $596,000 over 2017. However, no hike in the millage rate is anticipated.

“The budget team has been working diligently to present a balanced budget with no millage increase,” Kelley told the board. “I was concerned we would not be able to do that, but thanks to [Finance Director] Allison Martin and her team I think we can.”

Adding about $117,000 in revenue based on early estimates from the assessor’s office helps. An additional $100,000 out of the $400,000 budgeted this year for merit pay increases can also be used in the new budget, as the total amount will not be used. The remaining $200,000 will be included in the 2018 budget for merit increases. 

Even with this infusion, not all budget requests were approved. Tax Commissioner Rachel Pruitt requested a full time tag and tax clerk to deal with the increase in people coming to the tax/tag office. Over the past three years the number of people registering for tags or paying property taxes has increased by over 3,000.  

Probate Judge Michael Chastain requested an additional clerk to replace the one he voluntarily gave up in 2004. This is the first time Chastain has requested additional personnel, but the increase in the number of services provided by the court warrants the position, he said.

In 2004 the number of concealed weapons carry licenses issued by the court was 210. Last year, the court processed 996 permits in a state-mandated time period of 30 days. It used to be four-to-six weeks, he said.

Marriage license applications and estate and guardianship filings have also risen.

Lumpkin County Sheriff Stacey Jarrard asked that two positions in the Courts Services division be reinstated to provide transports for prisoners to and from court and to and from other law enforcement agencies, as well as serve civil documents, such as subpoenas and warrants.

Jarrard said the two deputies currently assigned to the division “are constantly switching back and forth between jail, uniform patrol and courts to provide adequate coverage for transport. Restructuring or reorganization are not practical due to other duties already assigned,” his justification letter stated.

Jarrard also requested two additional communications officers for the E911 center. The center is currently staffed by two communications officers per shift and one per mid-watch. 

Overtime is always being used to cover vacation, sick leave and training days, he said.

“To utilize the full potential of our 911 center it is recommended that a minimum of three officers be assigned per shift,” the letter stated.

The Assessor’s Office asked for two additional tax appraisers. This would bring the county up to the Georgia Department of Revenue’s minimum staffing recommendations made in 2013 for a county the size of Lumpkin. The Board of Assessors voted 5-0 in favor of the request. 

Since 2013, there is one less appraiser on staff “due to unforeseen circumstances,” the justification document states. 

In addition, the number of assessment notices the office sends out went from about 2,000 to 17,000, with an increase in the number of appeals 25-35 times the number previously received.

Lastly, the justification notes, “Lumpkin County is now beginning to see a full rebound from the real estate collapse that occurred in 2007/2008. The number of sales and the sales price of homes are now increasing.”

Single family home permit applications more than doubled for tax year 2016, and as of the first week of April 2017, the Planning Office is on track to receive even more this year. 

“In addition to working these permits, the appraisal staff is required to physically review improved parcels at least once every three years. This equates to reviewing at least 4,000 parcels each year. With only two field appraiser this is becoming more and more difficult to achieve,” the Board of Assessor’s justification states.

Kelley included one of the requested positions in the proposed budget.

One other position is included, in Administration. Current County Clerk Kathleen Walker plans to retire sometime within the first six months of 2018. She is requesting the county hire her replacement early in order to provide adequate training. 

Other items approved in the proposed budget include a two percent COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) for elected officials, merit increases, some minor equipment purchases and capital purchases, funds to cover a new law on firefighter cancer worker’s compensation and $220,000 for expected insurance increases in July 12018. 

The Finance Department website made available to the public the entire proposed budget, line item by line item, as well as justifications for all requests. Go to lumpkincounty.gov, click on Departments, click on Finance and scroll down to the 2018 budget. 

The budget is still a work in progress at this point. Elected officials are meeting with commissioners this week to plead their case for denied requests. 

Additionally, the digest has yet to be finalized. 

Currently, the BOC plans to vote on the final budget Aug. 15.

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The Dahlonega Nugget

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