Moultrie Observer

Local News

June 2, 2012

County considers $3 hike in garbage fees

MOULTRIE — Despite a larger Colquitt County budget no tax hike is planned for this year, but county garbage customers could see their monthly bills increase.

Over the last three years the county officials have used reserve funds to produce a balanced spending plan. But each of those years actual spending was less than the amount budgeted, meaning the actual amount of reserves spent was much less.

The proposed general fund budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year beginning July 1 is about $20.1 million, an increase of 3.5 percent from the current budget year. A hearing on the spending plan is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Currently the county has more than $8 million in its reserve accounts, County Administrator Bryan Shuler said. For the current year, $492,000 of reserves were budgeted. The actual amount of reserves that will be spent is not known, but it will be less than the amount budgeted.

For next year’s budget $700,000 to $720,000 in reserves likely will be budgeted.

“We’re in good shape right now with our reserve balance, but that’s not a path you want to stay on,” Shuler said. “We budgeted some amount of reserves every year, (but) in every year by the end of the year we didn’t have to use it.”

As the county has clamped down on spending in an environment in which revenue has been basically flat it gets harder to forego spending some reserve funds, Shuler said.

“Every year as you tighten down on departments’ expenses, the likelihood of spending that money increases,” he said. “This year will be the first time in three years that we’ve spent some of the reserves in a budget year.”

Some of the factors driving the budget higher include overall personnel costs, particularly health care, an increase in landfill tipping fees and fuel costs, Shuler said.

The need to pay higher fees to dispose of garbage and to replace trucks is what has prompted the county to take a look at residential garbage fees. Commissioners have discussed a $3 increase for the 8,600 customers, which would bring monthly rates to $20.

“When you have a relatively fixed customer base, and you have rising costs, and you don’t want to subsidize that you really don’t have a choice,” Shuler said of increasing garbage bills. “The customer base doesn’t grow much from year to year.”

Spending on solid waste is budgeted at $2.84 million, an increase of $295,701 from the current budget year. That fund pays for residential collection and operating the county’s transfer station.

Health care costs are up for the county by 40 percent since 2008 and are budgeted next year at $3.88 million.

Shuler expects a little relief when collection begins next year on the next special purpose local option sales tax. Unlike previous sales taxes, the tax passed by voters last November will allow the county to use some of the money for equipment purchases.

That will let the county to pay for some big ticket items, such as road equipment, from sales tax money instead of the general fund. However, Shuler said collections likely will not begin coming in until the end of February.

“We included $4.8 million [in the sales tax plan] for equipment purchases, specifically for Roads and Bridges, ambulance and sheriff’s vehicles so we could take those things out of our general fund and free up some other money for capital needs.”

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