By Elaine Owen, Editor
Fannin County commissioners designated Sept. 26 as the day for department heads and elected officials to present their budget requests and answer questions the commissioners might have before the budgets were finalized. Commissioners had requested that departments limit salary increases to 2 percent with no increases for elected officials.
The Tax Assessors were scheduled first, with board members Troy Junnier and Anthony Holloway representing the department. The Tax Assessors requested $828,705 for next year. (The approved budget last year was $848,265.) In addition to the 2 percent pay increases, Junnier explained that the Assessors would like to increase specific appraisers consistent with their projected level advancements.
Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson asked if the Assessors had compared the salaries requested to surrounding counties.
Junnier replied, “I don’t have those exact numbers with me, but we have looked at other counties, and while I was in class I talked to other departments and appraisers and they shared their information, so we are aware that our request is not out of line. We also have to factor in the increase with extra certification.”
Johnson asked Junnier to explain the steps the Assessors had taken to cut their budget—to save money in salaries.
Junnier stated two employees had left the past year and their duties were shifted to other employees in an attempt to complete the required work without hiring replacements.
“We’re at the point now where we feel that we can handle the job with the personnel that we have; but if we go below that, we’re afraid that we won’t get the job done.”
Several variables pertaining to the requested budget were discussed, including legal fees, maps and aerials (3-year contract), Q-public contract, iPad maintenance contract and other recurring expenses.
Helton suggested looking at the year-to-date salary “used” amount rather than the “budgeted” amount to get a clearer picture of funds actually used for salaries last year.
Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff requested $ 1,947,045 from the general fund budget and $2,602,200 from the SPLOST budget for the Roads Department budget. Last year, the approved budget was $2,085,162 from the general fund and $4,102,200 from the SPLOST budget.
Helton said, “Your department has only spent about $21,000 year-to-date overtime, which means you’re managing that very well compared to what it has been in the past,” adding, “the operation supplies (budget) looks too low.”
Ratcliff responded, “That might be something we’ll have to look at changing.”
Johnson said he looked forward to using the new Estes Equipment Fuel System to more accurately determine how much each department needs to budget for fuel, oil and lube.
“This (current) system hasn’t worked for a very long time and it shows in everyone’s budget if you look at fuel, oil and lube. It’s very hard for any department, over the past five years, to say ‘I need this for fuel, oil and lube,’ because the truth of the matter is they didn’t know how much they were using.”
The commission commended Ratcliff’s success in finding efficient equipment that could be used to cut down overall costs.
Helton said, “I’m real pleased with what’s going on and I don’t have any questions. You’re showing a budget request less than what it was last year.”
Johnson asked Ratcliff’ to continue being diligent in determining where costs can be cut in his departments.
Coroner Becky Callihan requested a pay increase for herself (as an elected official she is not eligible), two deputy coroners and other employees. She told the commissioners that on-call employees are not paid unless they are called to retrieve someone.
“I just need to take care of my people because they take care of me,” said Callihan.
Johnson was not aware of the on-call arrangement and agreed that a pay increase might be necessary.
He said, “ I wouldn’t take off if I wasn’t getting compensated. I appreciate you for doing that.”
The Coroner’s Department last year’s budget was $59,457 and the requested budget is $80,148, that includes approximately $6,000 in salary increases for employees.
Recreation Director Eddie O’Neal requested $845,233 for next year, with $835,825 in last year’s budget. O’Neal related the gate money realized from the after-school and summer programs (Football, Baseball, Softball, Basketball) including senior programs, Volleyball, Golf, Tennis, etc.).
O’Neal said last year programs netted $158,000 and this year it was $211,000 YTD. He hopes to expand programs next year, including boys and girls wrestling and field trips and day camps.
Appalachian Judicial Circuit Grants Manager Angela Norris spoke for the Superior Court and requested an increase of approximately $33,000 for all departments under the Superior Court.
Over the past year, the Court has had to ask for extra funds multiple times to cover payroll for the three counties within the circuit (Pickens, Gilmer and Fannin). By requesting an increase in the budget, they hope to avoid the need to request more funds during the year.
Most departments expressed concerns with finding and keeping quality employees due to a lack of qualified people in the field and people willing to work for the salary offered.
Other departments reporting, and budgets requested included:
• Land Development – $208,000 (last year $186,000)
• District Attorney – $381,657 (last year $315,116)
• Tax Commissioner – $401,762 (last year $399,303)
• Clerk of Courts – $565,247 (last year $560,557)
• Arts Association – $110,800 (last year $102,289)
• Magistrate Judge – $226,655 (last year $226,734)
• EMS – $2,160,885
• 911 – $548,348
• Fire – $613,484
• Sheriff’s Department – $2,299,871
• Detention Center for $1,410,262
No decision was made to approve or deny budgets presented at the Sept. 26 meeting. Budgets must be approved by the first commission meeting in December.