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Budget gap may be closed without tax hike
Commission balks at raising millage rate
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Forsyth County News

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View Forsyth County’s full 2012 preliminary budget presentation online at www.forsythco.com. Click on the "Budget" tab on the right-hand side, and then click "2012 Budget Updates" in the left-hand column.

Forsyth County’s budget for 2012 is not yet balanced, but commissioners believe that task can be accomplished without a millage rate increase.

Tuesday, the full five-member commission reviewed the preliminary 2012 budget for the first time.

Commissioners are expected to adopt next year’s millage rate in late July and approve the budget by the end of October.

Projected revenue for 2012 totals about $90.2 million, up from about $88.2 million in 2011.

As of Tuesday’s work session, requests from offices and departments to maintain the current levels of service total about $93.3 million in the county’s general fund, representing a current shortfall of $3.1 million.

Additional requests, if granted, could bring that figure to nearly $97 million.

Those requests include new items, positions or reclassifications and any other "new or expanded services," said David Gruen, the county’s finance director.

Employee cost-saving measures set to end with 2011 have been included in the 2012 totals, including restoration of four unpaid holidays and the 2 percent increase in 401K contributions.

"There’s been some interest in doing something for the employees," Gruen said.

Commissioners discussed the price of restoring those benefits, as well as what it would take to institute a cost-of-living adjustment.

A show of hands of department heads and elected officials present at the meeting went clearly in favor of a 3 percent cost-of-living increase instead of restoring the previous 5 percent 401K match.

Either measure would cost the county about the same. The pay raises would come in at about $1.8 million total, with $1.2 million from the general fund.

The commission also discussed whether the four unpaid holidays would be restored at a cost of about $539,000 to the general fund.

Looking at a pie chart of how county general funds are divided among departments, Gruen said the proportions are typical of any local government.

Forsyth County, he said, has the lowest overall millage rate of 14 nearby counties.

The bond rate, in addition to the rates for maintenance and operations and fire, make up the total county millage.

Gruen recommended the bond rate could be lowered this year, which commissioners seemed to agree with.

Officials weren’t ready to determine whether to add that difference to the maintenance and operations rate, which would add about $600,000 to the county’s general fund revenue.

"We intend on reducing it, but we may end up having to use it," Commissioner Patrick Bell said.

Either way, the commission’s intent appears to be to keep the overall millage rate the same or slightly lower.

"We still have to come up with about $6 million," Bell said. "Maybe we do want to discuss certain items."

The finance committee plans to meet again Friday to go over some final matters.

It will then offer a recommendation on the advertised millage rate for 2012.

A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. Assessed value is 40 percent of actual market value. Each mill brings in nearly $8 million in revenue.

If the rate were to hold steady, taxes on a $200,000 home would be about $1,892, while a drop in the bond rate could lower that amount to about $1,886, according to county figures.