The Effingham County Tax and Finance Committee moved closer to a plan on how to fill $261,440 shortfall in the FY17 budget Monday night, however no action was taken during the discussion-only meeting. The county had reduced the original deficit of around $400,000 by pulling funds out of contingencies and making other cuts. According to Committee Chairman Rob Arnold, the board’s options to balance the budget, short of significant cuts in available services, include an increase of 4.99 percent on property taxes or to pull those funds from savings. Additionally, county agencies such as the Health Department are looking to expand. Arnold said that the board was leaning towards pulling the funds from savings.
While multiple factors led the budget shortfall board member Karen Luchtefeld said that the biggest contributors are the county’s payroll and employee health insurance. According to Arnold, with the county’s 146 employees, they will be facing an approximately $110,000 increase to payroll each year due to union and F.O.P. mandated annual wage increases.
Members of the public who attended the meeting spoke against additional property taxes. “Government can never do with less, but everybody out there paying taxes, they can always do with less,” said area resident John Gardner. He said that he has friends and family and that “dread” tax season because their rates are constantly going up.
The additional 4.99 percent increase would give the county around $190,000 to use towards the deficit, meaning they would still need to pull from money from their savings regardless. Arnold expressed trepidation about pulling from county savings due the state’s current financial woes. The $2,000,000 the county has in the bank would not account for half of their yearly expenses, which are totaling around 10,100,000 for FY17. County Board Chairman Jim Niemann said that with uncertainty from the state, he would like the county to have at least half of their budget in reserve in case of emergency.
An additional $34,000 was removed from the deficit by axing funds placed aside to hire an extra employee for the Treasurer’s Department, leaving it at $227,440.
Action will be taken on the budget during a special County Board Meeting on Tuesday at 2 p.m. on the third floor of the County Building. After an official vote, the proposed FY17 budget will be available to the public for 30 days and can be amended before being approved.