0

Barrow Commission to try again to reach budget consensus

WINDER - Barrow County Board of Commissioners will try a second time today to get a budget in place they can all agree on.

One of the disagreeing commissioners is unable to attend the meeting and therefore cannot cast his vote.

The Board will meet at 11 a.m. today to decide whether to approve the proposed $37.3 million 2008 budget.

That amount reflects an increase of about $4.3 million from 2007's $33 million budget.

The proposed budget has already been denied once. Commissioners denied it Tuesday by a 3-to-2 vote when Commissioners Jerry Lampp, Isaiah Berry and Ben Hendrix voted against approving it.

Hendrix is unable to attend today's vote, due to the 11 a.m. time and short notice, he said, adding that he would have voted against it a second time today if the proposed budget were presented without significant changes.

"I understand the budget needs to be ratified by Oct. 1 to keep the wheels moving, and getting all commissioners and department heads together is a scheduling problem," Hendrix said.

Those three commissioners questioned the need to hire 28 new jail personnel in 2008 to operate the new jail that opens in 2009.

"I think there is room for some cuts," said Hendrix. "I had asked to have those positions deferred for 12 months."

There's plenty of work for those new hires in 2008, said Maj. Murray Kogod, Barrow County's chief deputy.

A total of 106 employees are needed to staff the new 387-bed jail. The county now has 45 Sheriff's Department employees, meaning they need to hire 61 employees before the jail opens in April 2009. The 90-bed jail currently houses 160 inmates.

"The inmates sleep on the floor and wherever we can put them," Kogod said. "It is a security issue for both the inmates and the detention officers. We can put the new hires right to work."

All new detention officers go through about four weeks of training before they can work in the jail. Qualified and interested jail employees don't just grow on trees, according to Kogod.

"You can't just hire and train 62 employees in three months," Kogod said. "For every two we hire we review eight to 10 applications. There's not an overflowing pool of employees seeking detention jobs."

Budget highlights

The Sheriff's office is allotted the most cash of any Barrow County department at $7.8 million, with Fire and Emergency Services just below that figure at $7 million.

The least amount of money, $2,600, is budgeted for forest resources.

The budget allows for adding 42 new employees, bringing the total of full time county employees to 514. That includes hiring nine new Fire Department positions, four employees in Animal Control and a maintenance position in Leisure Services.

County officials expect to eliminate the position of development utility inspector from the planning department.

Salaries and benefits for Barrow County employees represent the county's largest proposed expenditure in 2008 at $24.47 million.

Revenue

Expected revenue totals $37.3 million. Property taxes bring in the most revenue at $13.1 million.

A proposed hike in sewer rates would bring the base sewer fee from $15 to $15.60 and the cost of each 1,000 gallons used would rise from $3 to $3.27.

The alcoholic beverage license fee would increase from $500 to $750 and the fee to register a dangerous dog would go up from $100 to $250.

SideBar: If you go

What: Barrow County Board of Commissioners called meeting

When: 11 a.m. today

Where: County Annex, 233 E. Broad St., Winder