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Financial picture warming up

Tax hike unlikely for 2014 budget

POSTED: April 24, 2013 12:29 a.m.
 

Forsyth County’s finance committee kicked off the 2014 budget planning with a familiar goal — no increase in the millage rate.

The property tax rate has stayed the same since 2010, and the commission plans to keep it that way, said Chairman Pete Amos and Commissioner Brian Tam, who serve on the committee.

David Gruen, county finance director, said the preliminary estimates for the budget will be presented in May, but Forsyth is showing signs of growth.

Early projections show the tax digest could increase by about 2 percent in 2014, Gruen said.

“Sales taxes are tracking ahead of last year, I think over 5 percent above last year,” he said. “Last year, the entire year ended up 6 percent ahead of the prior year in sales taxes, so I think that’s a reflection of the activity and the growth and things that are going on in this county economically.”

That increase has also led to several departments seeking additional positions.

Within the general fund, 36 new jobs have been requested, said Pat Carson, personnel services director.

The courts asked for “a fair amount,” Carson said, and the sheriff’s office hopes to hire a few employees in November 2014, prior to the opening of the new courthouse and detention center.

Nearly a quarter of the requests came from the planning department, which asks for eight positions to keep up with the return of development, Carson said.

If all of those new jobs were granted after further review, which staff said is unlikely, the cost would be about $1.5 million. Department heads also asked for about $275,000 for 57 position reclassifications.

Even if new positions were to be added, Forsyth’s staffing levels still wouldn’t return to the peak before the layoffs.

In 2009, the county cut 30 jobs and 24 vacant positions, and in 2008, 26 employees were let go.

The planning department was hit especially hard in response to the sharp drop in development.

Gruen said the increase in permit fees for applications in the planning department could alone fund some of the requested positions.

“Last year, it exceeded the [revenue projected] significantly,” he said. “This year it’s on track to be a very big number, over budget for permit fees.”

The department is processing about 200 single family home permits per month, which is the highest in the area and possibly the state, Gruen said.

That could reach about 2,500 for the year, in comparison to more than 5,000 per year during the housing boom, he said.

“If that was a bubble, we’ll find out,” he said. “What’s normal, healthy growth here, we’ll see if it’s 2,000 or 3,000 permits per year.

“The point is, it’s grown dramatically, you can see that in the revenue for permits, and I think the department’s responding to that in their request.”

Preliminary budget numbers are expected to be presented at a finance committee meeting May 3.

Following that meeting, the county manager will meet with department heads, and then the committee will huddle with elected officials and other offices later that month to discuss budget requests.

 

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