After a two-week hiatus on budget talks after the departure of its interim city administrator, Colquitt County Commission resumes work today with a new interim at the helm.
Tom Berry’s tenure ended June 4, with a 10-day gap before Mike Stewart’s arrival on Monday.
Prior to leaving, Berry left commissioners with a proposal to lay off about eight workers and increase taxes, while giving workers a 2 percent raise.
During commissioners’ last meeting with Berry at the helm they balked at the recommended 1-mill tax increase. If that recommendation were put into place, a taxpayer with $100,000 in taxable property -- a house for instance -- would see an increase of $40 on the next tax bill.
During a Wednesday interview, Stewart said that nothing is off the table at this time, but that ultimately commissioners will make the decisions.
Commissioners meet at 10 a.m. today and have a June 30 deadline to have a budget in place for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
“We’re looking at putting some information and some options together with some recommendations,” Stewart said Wednesday. “Certainly some decisions are going to have to be made tomorrow. Some of them may be tough.”
At the previous meeting, several commissioners indicated they would prefer to use money from the county’s reserve funds to balance the budget.
The county has roughly $7 million in reserves, but officials said that about $4 million of that is needed for cash flow purposes, leaving a minimum amount left to help the county weather an emergency situation.
Commissioner Luke Strong said Wednesday that he thinks the county can get through another year using reserves before putting into place some of Berry’s recommendations of streamlining how services are provided.
“I don’t have a problem with using reserves to balance the budget to avoid laying off employees and having a millage increase,” he said. “Personally, I think once we hire a permanent manager we can look at all the departments and see if we can streamline some things.”
If the county dips into reserves for the next budget year, it likely would mean some major changes down the road.
“This is pretty much the last year we’re going to be able to go into reserves to balance the budget,” he said. “I think we need that period of time. I’d like to start immediately after we finish this budget looking at county government as a whole.”
Stewart was hired under the same contract terms as Berry -- $5,000 per month.
He said Wednesday that he did not specify a certain length of time to serve in that capacity.
Commissioners likely will have to start from scratch in the search process for a permanent manager. They could not reach an agreement with their preferred candidate on compensation, and another of the three finalists is looking at a position elsewhere.