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Commissioners mull changes to budget process

Forsyth County officials are planning for the county’s annual budget process, which might look a little different than in previous years.

Forsyth County commissioners held a special called meeting Monday to discuss the budget process and a five-year capital improvement plan. County Manager Eric Johnson said he thought special called meetings with commissioners would be a useful throughout the process.

“It just made sense to me that we have special called meetings that the entire board is invited to to discuss the budget,” Johnson said. “Obviously, because they are special called meetings, you may find that you have conflicts from time to time, but I’d rather we invited all of you. And there’s a reason for that: the budget is the most significant thing that you do all year.”

In November, commissioners approved a balanced budget for 2018 totaling $346 million.

Changes to this year’s budget process will include how county departments prepare budgets.

At Monday’s meeting, commissioners and county staff also discussed employee salary and benefits, how much the county spends to train new hires and how to retain more employees. 

“I can tell you, I watched the last downturn. Employees come running to the county because it’s a job,” said Chairman Todd Levent. “Then, as the jobs became available [and the] economy picked up, they start leaving and going out to the public sector.”

The county’s millage rate – a formula that calculates property taxes – is made up of the fire, general obligation bond and maintenance and operations millage rates. Johnson said the county could see a change to those rates in the future.

“One thing to consider is whether we can adjust the [general obligation bond] millage,” he said. “We’re not suggesting it for this year, but we may look at whether we can reduce, as we mature some of our GO debt, the GO millage [rate] and also let the [maintenance and operations] millage increase. The bottom line to the taxpayer is the same. The mix is different.” 

There was also discussion at the meeting of a five-year plan for capital improvements for county projects.

“A suggestion for all revenues is … start to have a five-year plan, and the five-year plan should assign revenues to projects,” Johnson said. “We shouldn’t make a commitment to a project without knowing the operating cost.

In recent years, commissioners discuss budget numbers and new projects in the spring and summer before approving it in the fall.