It is impossible to discuss all the important issues in the county budget process in one short discussion. I will continue discussions of separate budget issues in future letters. I have looked at every single line in our budget. I have asked hours of questions to the county staff and other commissioners. My comments are the opinions, observations, and concerns of a new concerned county commissioner struggling through his first county government budget cycle.
The good news is the county budget is balanced. More good news, the county’s 2012 audit, shows improvement over 2011. The proposed 2014 county budget was publicly displayed and discussed at the most recent Baldwin County Commission Meeting.
The story of our county budget since 2010 has been declining community services, little investment in community infrastructure, and almost no investment in the future of our community. The decline is a direct result of significantly reduced tax collections and other revenues. Similar situations exist across our state and country. Between 2010 and 2012, Baldwin County has reduced services and community investment by approximately $640,000. These actions were required by declining property revenues, without adjustment to property taxes, and reduced revenues from other sources.
Reduced services and community investment continued in a smaller degree in 2013. 2014 is likely to be the same, and more so. It is my estimate, total reduced services and community investment since 2010 will now approach $1 million. One significant contribution to declining services and investment in the 2014 budget are new costs required by the state and federal governments. Included in our 2014 budget is the projected expense of $247,000 for our nation’s Affordable Car Act (national health care). One hundred thirty-three thousand dollars has been included in the county’s 2014 budget, with the remaining probable $114,000 to be determined during the future year.
Additionally, because the county is on a calendar year budget, there are cash flow issues that must be resolved by temporary borrowing of resources to cover expenses until county revenue accumulates later in the calendar year. It is a common practice for counties in Georgia to temporarily borrow money using a process called Tax Anticipation Notes (TAN). The expense in interest associated with borrowing money for TAN purposes in 2014, is approximately $100,000.
Adding together the additional cost required by the Affordable Care Act and TAN interest expenses is a projected $347,000 in county expenses that will reduce resources for services to the community and continue the decline in investment in county infrastructure. Also, cost of living adjustment based on the increased cost of materials and services required to provide community services (fuel, water, electricity, etc.) continue to accumulate. In my opinion, the continued decline in services and investment in our community will exceed $400,000 during 2014.
During our last commission meeting, there was discussion about how to deal with required additional costs to the county related to the Affordable Care Act. No debate, it is now law in our country. During the last national election approximately 40 percent of our community chose not to cast a vote for the leaders that made decisions about important issues such as national health care. Of the approximately 60 percent who did vote, more than 50 percent chose officials that support national health care. In summary, our community supported the national health care concept either by voting or choosing not to participate. Locally, the additional expense of the Affordable Health Care Act will be paid by reducing local services and reducing community investment.
The needs of our community continue to accumulate. At our last commission meeting, commissioners and county staff heard from county employees that they have not had a raise in pay for several years. Their cost of living has increased, with no increase in their salary. All the county commissioners agree our county employees are one of our county’s greatest assets. All the commissioners agree county employees deserve highest priority for a raise when revenue and resources become available.
An overwhelming question must be, how long can we continue to provide diminishing services to our community? How long can we continue to fail to invest adequate resources into county infrastructure? How long can we continue to choose not to invest in our community’s future? How can we stop the decline of our community’s population and start investing in progressive concepts and facilities that will attract businesses and families? These are very difficult problems with very complex solutions.
The county’s ability to provide services is a direct result of county revenues. Our county is considering a thorough and complete detailed evaluation of every possible revenue source. The county will continue to look critically at every expense, starting with direct commissioner expenses. We must find every legal resource possible. We must find opportunities for everyone to share in the expense of county government. We must not give unrealistic burden to our property owners!
County Commissioners need to hear from the community! We need your help! We would like to see you at our meetings! You must communicate with us if you want our decisions to reflect what is important to you!
Henry R. Craig
Baldwin County Commissioner, District 4