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DALTON, Ga. - Thanks to a healthy fund balance, Whitfield County commissioners are reviewing a proposed budget that doesn't cut services and is about $1.2 million more than last year.

"The only real major increase is debt service," Finance Director Ron Hale said. "We are keeping very, very flat on the budget lines."

Commissioners are planning a thorough review of the proposed 2010 general fund expenditure budget of $45 million and the $6.4 million capital project budget.

"I think the perception of the citizens is that we need to go back and look one more time and see if we can cut that down," Commission Chairman Mike Babb said.

The county has discussed plans to issue up to $12 million in bonds for economic development projects. Debt service on the bonds would cost about $915,000 annually for 15 to 20 years.

The projects include $2.2 million for the recent purchase and prep work at land off the South Bypass for flooring maker IVC U.S. Inc.

WHITFIELD COUNTY PROPOSED BUDGET AT A GLANCE

FY 2009 FY 2010

General fund revenues: $41,609,900 $40,507,600

General fund expenditures: $43,858,645 $45,102,621

Capital projects expenditures: $5,906,271 $6,413,700

WHITFIELD COUNTY FUND BALANCE AND PROPOSED USE

FY 2009 FY 2010

Beginning balance: $26,556,027 $21,091,297

For general fund: -$2,248,745 -$4,627,252

For capital projects: -$1,532,378 -$2,567,200

Projected fund balance: $22,774,904 $13,896,845

Revised projection: $21,091,297

Source: Ron Hale, county finance director

WHAT'S NEXT?

Commissioners will vote on millage rate Monday. The current millage rate is 5.0610. The budget must be approved by Dec. 31.

When the recession began, the county had about $26.5 million in reserves and "that's what we're eating on right now," Mr. Babb said. "It's keeping us from raising taxes. It's doing what it's supposed to do."

But the county can't continue deficit spending forever, he said. Without an economic recovery and an upswing in sales and property tax revenues, the county will have to look at reducing services, raising taxes or both, he said.

"At the spending rate that we're on, there's going to be a day of reckoning at some time," said Mr. Babb. "We're trying to push that day of reckoning on out there, hoping that the economy will turn around."

Commissioner Harold Brooker said he wants to see the budget reduced by about $4 million - the difference between projected revenues and expenditures in the general fund budget.

"You can't spend more money than you take in," Mr. Brooker said. "We're going to have to go over it (the budget) line item by line item."

Commissioner Greg Jones said he also would like to make some cuts, while Randy Waskul said commissioners should look at whether they need to finance the entire $12 million for economic development.

Commissioner Mike Cowan said it's financially sound to make economic development purchases now because the county "is in good shape budgetwise" and can get better prices on land, work and material. But if they continue to trim the budget, "those items will be cut back as well," he said.

Mr. Babb said making major cuts to the budgetl likely will affect large projects, such as work planned for the new Westside Park.

"We're going to have to get into some really hard decisions," he said. "But citizens and businesses all around us have had to make really hard decisions."

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