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Commissioners OK $348 million budget for 2018
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After months of work, Forsyth County Commissioners have approved a balanced budget for 2018.

Commissioners voted 5-0 at a recent meeting to adopt the county’s balanced 2018 budget — a grand total of $348 million — after hearing a brief presentation from Dave Gruen, the county’s chief financial officer.

The county’s general fund, the largest fund in the budget, was approved at $127.9 million, up about 8.4 percent from 2017’s total of about $118 million.

Reached after the meeting, Chairman Todd Levent had high praise for county staff for reaching a balanced budget.

“We have some of the best staff in the state,” Levent said on Monday.  “We rely on them to bring us their budgets and balance those budgets through our financial department. They have done such a fantastic job over the years.”

Gruen did not give a detailed presentation at the meeting, as had been the case in previous meetings, but did highlight certain parts of the budget.

The county’s total budget — made up of the general, special revenue, capital projects, debt service enterprise and internal service funds — is about $348 million.

Some capital improvement and new budget items of interest for the budget include $800,000 for a firing range and nearly $1.7 million for an initiative to replace 32 vehicles from the sheriff’s department; $4.4 million for machinery and equipment updates for the E-911 Center; $900,000 for synthetic turf replacement; and $230,000 for playground surfacing replacement at Fowler Park and $2.4 million for county and library staff for a five percent cost of living adjustment.

Most public comments on the budget at the meeting were related to a reduction in tipping fees (paid to the county based on the number of trucks at Eagle Point Landfill), and issues surrounding the expansion of the facility.

“You’re decreasing the fund balance that will be set aside to clean up the mess and increasing the amount the general fund is receiving,” said Brenda Henderson, with the group Stop Trashing Forsyth and the Etowah.

Responding to some of those concerns, District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said an agreement with the landfill must be approved before moving forward with new positions and other changes sought by those living near the landfill.

“We know that the things that we are bringing forth with our [agreement] and ordinance to come forward will have budgeted items that will come with that that can’t be shown on here yet because we haven’t developed the position,” she said.

In June, the county’s finance committee got started with requests from various county departments totaling $6.5 million over budget. Since then, the committee and county staff have made enough cuts to reach a balanced budget.

Commissioners approved a county millage rate of 8.036 — the same as 2017— in July, with 4.642 mills for maintenance and operations, 1.975 mills for fire and 1.419 mills for bonds.

The county’s millage rate is combined with the total school rate, 19.718 mills, for a total of 27.754 mills. A state millage rate is included but is set at 0 mills.

The millage rate is the formula that calculates property taxes. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value, which is 40 percent of the actual market value.

Per the presentation, the county’s combined fire and M&O rates, 6.617 mills, are the lower than “comparable counties” Hall (9.350), Cherokee (8.781), Paulding (9.6), Douglas (10.768) and Henry (12.733).

While the millage rate won’t increase, the county is expecting about a 7.6 percent increase in the tax digest due to recent home valuations.  For the tax digest increase, about 3.67 percent came from new construction and 3.99 percent from increased values from reassessments.

Gruen said the county’s bond rating, which he likened to an individual’s credit score, had AAA ratings from financial service companies Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s, a rare designation.

 “We have it with both Moody’s and S&P; I came here, we had it with one not with both until a few years ago,” he said. “The double AAA ranking, as I understand it, is enjoyed by only three counties in the state, which puts us in in the company of less than 2 percent of the counties.”

Money from the tax digest will go to fund items in 2018.

Budget information is available online at