With property values still pending, Dade County budget deficit sits at $600,000

With property values still pending, Dade County budget deficit sits at $600,000

June 22nd, 2018 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Dade County Executive Ted Rumley looks over the planned community center and swimming pool for The Preserve, a 2,100-acre land development near Rising Fawn, Ga., that went bankrupt. Two men connected to the project were found guilty of fraud and money laundering in federal court last month.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

TRENTON, Ga. — Dade County officials will have a busy couple days next week.

The commissioners expect to receive this year's tax digest Tuesday, which will show them the combined worth of all the properties in the county. By Thursday evening at 5 p.m., when they gather at the administrative office for a special called hearing, they will have to settle on a final budget.

As it stands, they're looking at a $600,000 deficit right now. But Dade County Executive Ted Rumley hopes that problem will solve itself. He didn't have firm figures after a meeting Thursday, but he said he's seen enough building permits come through his office the last three years to seriously boost the property values on a lot of land.

If those values are indeed up, the commissioners will have the option to lower the property tax rate, saving some residents money. Rumley doesn't expect to do that.

"We'll accept the growth," he said. "We're not going to roll [the rate] back."

On the other hand, last week he told the Times Free Press he also won't raise the rate to meet the wish list for the budget.

Compared to the current fiscal year, proposed spending is up $995,700 — a 10 percent increase. Revenue, meanwhile, is up about $395,700, a 4 percent bump.

On the spending side, the largest single driver is a $311,000 increase in employee insurance. John Leggett, a benefits consultant for the county, told the commissioners during Thursday's meeting that Blue Cross Blue Shield is charging them more per employee because of high medical expenses last year, including individual claims north of $200,000.

Overall, the company is charging the county about 17 percent more per employee this year. But there's another issue: Some new employees are taking the insurance plan, whereas their predecessors did not.

The sheriff's office is currently in line for a $280,000 bump. Some of that money covers insurance increases. The department is also slated to add four new positions: two jail officers and two school resource officers. (The county's board of education will split the cost on the resource officers.)

The budget presented this week shows a slightly smaller deficit than last week's draft, when spending outpaced revenues by $730,000.

County administrators actually boosted spending in the current draft after they remembered to add insurance coverage for a couple employees at the sheriff's office and in economic development. At the same time, they cut a part-time employee position that Superior Court Clerk Kathy Page requested.

Chief Financial Officer Don Townsend also added new revenue to the budget, compared to last year. He now projects that the county can sell 36 acres of property on Back Valley Road, behind the landfill in Trenton. The county has put the property up for auctions in past years. Townsend is now projecting the county can get $110,000 for it this year.

"We have attempted to sell it in the past and really never got the number it was worth," he said. "Hopefully that can be processed and sell."

The county's fiscal year begins July 1.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.