DALTON, Ga. - Some Whitfield County residents told commissioners they did not want any property tax increases, while others lined up to plead for more funding for the library, tourism and development in the county.
County commissioners spent more than an hour listening to comments from residents during a public budget hearing Monday night. Several dozen people crowded into the commissioners' meeting, which is usually sparsely attended.
The proposed 2012 budget has a general fund of $39.9 million in spending and $1.9 million in capital expenditures, about $1.2 million less than the 2011 budget.
Despite the cuts, commissioners still expect a shortfall of $6.3 million and have warned they will need to raise property taxes next year.
"Keep your hands out of my pocket and don't spend any more money than you've got," Harold Groover told commissioners.
But Rodney Boyd, who begged commissioners to find more money to fund the recreation department so his son could play sports, said he was willing to pay to have adequate parks.
"We operate by (Albert) Einstein's definition of insanity - doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result," Boyd said.
Before the public hearing, County Commission Chairman Mike Babb told the crowd the county had already cut everything it could in previous years.
Whitfield County spends less money per capita, has fewer employees and a lower property tax than other comparable counties, he pointed out.
"Commissioners understand that citizens want to keep the taxes down regardless, but we are going to have to have a mind set change in our community," Babb said.
Citizens soundly defeated a 1 percent sales tax increase referendum in November which would have been used for capital projects.
The county is expecting to see a slight increase in sales tax collections next year, but is expecting a decrease in property taxes. This year commissioners also voted to increase an inventory tax exemption for businesses to 100 percent, which means a $1.6 million loss in revenue.
Commissioners plan to make the deepest cuts to the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center, with about $450,000 in cuts to both of those agencies compared to last year.
Other cuts include $50,000 from the library budget, $50,000 from the Department of Family and Children Services, $80,000 from the Dalton/Whitfield County Community Development Corporation and $150,000 from the Solid Waste Authority.
County employees will also take four unpaid furlough days, will not receive raises and are under a hiring freeze for the year.
Many of the people who spoke Monday night did so on behalf of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Dalton has seen an increase in hotel and motel taxes and money generated from tourism in the last few years, supporters said.
"This is not a cost center; this is a revenue center," said T.J. Kaikobad, who owns The Dalton Depot restaurant downtown. "The center has been an astronomically successful endeavor."
Joe Forsee, director of the library, warned the library would likely have to close another day a week and possible lay off more staff with the additional cuts. The library has already cut its hours this year.
"I know the county has more needs than money, but cutting the library hurts real people," he said.
County commissioners will vote on a final budget later this month.
Contact staff writer Mariann Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 706-980-5824.