Catoosa County is looking at minimal changes for its 2018 budget compared to the previous year, meaning no property tax increase for area residents.
County Chief Financial Officer Carl Henson presented the proposed budget during the Aug. 1 commission meeting, showing that the county government plans to keep expenses almost flat across the board for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
"We told [department heads] early on this was going to be flat," said County Manager Jim Walker.
"We were pretty firm," Commission Chairman Steven Henry said.
To view the county’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, as well as historical budgets, visit catoosa.com/budget. A public hearing on the budget is being held Tuesday, Aug. 15 at 6 p.m. in the Administration Building at 800 Lafayette St. in Ringgold.
Comparatively, the general fund budget went up by about $2.3 million from the 2016 fiscal year to the current year.
Offsetting an additional $225,000 in general fund expenditures in the budget proposed for 2018 is an anticipated $225,175 more in revenue. While keeping the budget balanced, the addition in expenditures allows for less than 1 percent inflation, according to the budget documents posted online. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the country's inflation rate was 1.7 percent as of June 2017.
In a follow-up interview, Henson said a 3 percent salary increase passed by the county in April 2017 constitutes a large portion of the increase in general fund expenditures. The rest is due to the county's insurance costs going up by about $50,000, or roughly 1 percent from the previous year, he explained.
How the rest of the total budget's $45.6 million is distributed to each department could change, though no major shake-ups are expected, Henson said.
"For example, the transportation department got a grant last year for buses, but we won't be getting [that grant] this year," Henson said. "That means they won't be getting the revenue from that, but there won't be any related expenditures, either. There are some differences."
Among those differences are an approximate $250,000 increase to the sheriff's department and a nearly $200,000 increase in the county jail's budget. However, those are offset by a nearly $300,000 decrease in the county's office of risk management and around $100,000 less for the county's public transportation budget on account of the lack of the bus grant funds.
In addition, Henson gave the example of the parks and recreation department hypothetically bringing in more revenue than expected in the upcoming fiscal year. If revenue is higher than expected, department heads could then request the commission approve further expenses.
The Catoosa County Commission will hold a public hearing on the budget Tuesday, Aug. 15 at 6 p.m. Although there is still time for department heads to negotiate their budget with the commission, Henson said he doesn't anticipate any great changes before elected officials vote on the overall budget Aug. 31.
Changes are possible, though. Walker said Clerk of Court Tracy Brown has floated the idea of hiring an extra employee to help handle all the added case files from the county's state court, which opened last year to handle some of the superior court's former misdemeanor and civil court cases.
Another change Walker mentioned was a $50,000 decrease for the fire department's contracted services. Much of that money is set aside for volunteer firefighters, but Walker said the county has continually budgeted more money than the fire department needs in that area.
Instead, it will set that money aside for an added benefit for firefighters' health insurance. A state law passed this year requires local governments to cover potential forms of cancer that firefighters can fall victim to as a result of their careers working in heavy smoke and flames.
Staff writer Tyler Jett contributed to this story.
Email Shane Foley at firstname.lastname@example.org.