The Milledgeville-Baldwin County Chamber’s Eggs & Issues series focused on “The State of Baldwin County” Wednesday morning at Crockett’s cafeteria. County commissioner and board chairman Sammy Hall, District 3, dove into challenging topics affecting the local government.
His opening statements to a packed crowd were positive.
“I’m here to tell you up front that the state of the county is much better than the state of the nation. We do not have a deficit. We must have a balanced budget, and we do so,” Hall said.
• Challenges over the last four years
Hall said no one was spared during the economic downturn. Over the past four years the county has reduced the budget by $4 million, while cutting or freezing more than 50 positions.
The net tax digest declined $86 million as well. The effect these figures have on services is not always well understood by the general public, according to the commissioner.
“Constituents may want new or expanded services while others are demanding that taxes be cut,” Hall said. “Sometimes the same ones that ask for more services are the same ones seeking lower taxes.”
Baldwin County is bound by the state constitution to provide mandated services that shift down from state to local government.
The county acts as the local administrative arm with limited discretion.
Hall reminded the public they pay for the court system, public and mental health, sheriff and jails, emergency management, property tax administration services and elections.
Sixty-five percent of property taxes go to the board of education with the remainder totaling $8 million allotted for the county government.
The county’s cash flow issue originates from the calendar year budget cycle. Fall taxes pay for services already provided.
The commissioner said the board needs other financing options to build a contingency fund. Any reserve would help defray cost and prepare for emergencies.
“As long as we have a calendar year budget, we are never going to have seven or eight million dollars in that fund,” Hall said.
Current revenue numbers show positive signs, and sales tax monies are coming in as expected.
Refinancing of water bonds could build the general fund. The county is working to get a handle on its financial operations through more detailed analysis.
“Our fund balance is not where we would like it to be, but we are making every effort to get there,” he said.
• Water storage
The county was previously awarded a $5.2 million Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) Drinking Water State Revolving Fund for multiple improvement projects.
The Baldwin County Board of Commissioners voted to accept the current bid for a 2 million gallon ground storage tank and booster pump station on Hopewell Church Road in February. The GEFA contract taps into county funds April 10.
Projects also include construction of a 750,000-gallon elevated storage tank and water mains on Highway 212 as well as a new Gerald Harris booster pump station.
Hall said the infrastructure improvements provide better pumping and storage capacity to the southern areas of most need.
“The issue isn’t the amount of water or where it comes from but storage,” the commissioner said. “Pumping can’t always keep up with demand.”
• Landfill future
Baldwin County has owned and operated three contiguous landfills on Union Hill Church Road since the 1980s. During viable years, the facility accepted trash from Central State Hospital, prisons, county and the City of Milledgeville.
The landfill ceased public trash operation in 2007.
“The amount of waste we had in the county would not support the cost of operating the landfill,” Hall said Wednesday. “It just wasn’t feasible to run the landfill with one customer.”
The county spends $100,000 per year for engineering and environmental monitoring.
Capping the landfill is too costly at $2.5 million. Selling would remove post-closure liability from the county’s current books sending permits to the private operator.
ARCADIS Engineering will offer the board of commissioners a solicitation package.
“This would not only do away with expense and liability to the county but may actually bring in extra county revenue,” Hall said.
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