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Forsyth 2013 budget nearly set
BOC to review item next week
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County has a balanced 2013 budget proposal prepared.

Finance Director David Gruen presented the general fund budget of about $89.5 million during a finance committee meeting Wednesday.

The total amount represents a decrease of about 3 percent from the 2012 budget of about $92.4 million.

But Gruen detailed changes that involve moving an insurance premium fund out of the general fund and moving in service funds, which were once charged to outside departments.

As a result, he said, the two budgets cannot be directly compared. Keeping the insurance fund in would increase the budget by about $5 million, while moving the internal charges back out would reduce it by several hundred thousand.

The proposal will next be reviewed Tuesday at a commission work session, followed by a scheduled public hearing on Oct. 4 and possible adoption Oct. 18.

In June, commissioners voted to keep the existing property tax rates, and the finance department worked to meet the anticipated revenue of about $89.5 million for the general fund.

During the preliminary budget process, health care costs were identified as a major cause of the initial gap in requested funding versus revenue.

Earlier this month, commissioners approved adjustments to the health care program that reduced the significant increase in costs of more than 18 percent down to about 5.5 percent, Gruen said.

“With that being done, in the budget now there is 3 percent for salary increases,” he said.

The 401K program match would also be increased from last year’s 3 percent to 4 percent, representing an increase of about $685,000.

Each year since 2010, the 401k match was lowered from 5 to 3 percent, intended to be a temporary cut.

Commissioners Patrick Bell and Brian Tam, who serve on the finance committee, discussed whether employees would prefer a cost-of-living adjustment or an increase in the 401K match if given the choice, respectively.

Getting a cost-of-living adjustment would help offset the health care contribution increase, said Amanda Ream, financial operations manager.

On Sept. 11, the commission voted 5-0 to raise the employee contribution for the same health care plan from 5 to 10 percent, while also adding an optional, less rich plan and wellness program discount that would cost employees the same per paycheck.

It also switched providers, from Cigna to Coventry Health Care of Georgia, to reduce costs.

“The board’s actions in the health insurance plan did a lot to narrow that gap in the Cadillac plan,” Gruen said. “Those were some major steps.”

A mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will tax employers paying more than a certain dollar amount per employee starting in 2018.

Plans contributing more than $10,200 per employee annually will be taxed. Forsyth County currently averages $14,600 per employee.

Bell said the county needs to outline the steps to meet that mandate so employees won’t be “blindsided” by contribution increases.

“We can’t wait until 2017 and say, ‘Now you’ve got to pay out of your ear,’” Bell said. “This year, we need to sit down and develop that plan and put it on the Web site.”

Gruen suggested putting a policy in place to outline how contributions would be determined relative to the costs of health care.

Also in the meeting, he discussed a proposed change to budget accounting by creating a capital projects fund.

The account would be money set aside to replace items or for other capital needs that arise.

To start, he proposed in 2013 moving to the capital fund about $6.1 million, or half of the reserves above the county’s 25 percent of the budget policy.

Then, about $1.6 million would be budgeted for 2013 needs.

In future years, Gruen said a program could be put in place for scheduled replacement of items that have reached their lifespans, such as vehicles or air-conditioning units.

“That could easily amount to about $1 [million] to $2 million per year just to keep up with our capital needs — not to add anything new, just to keep up,” he said.

Bell suggested a similar program could be put in place to go toward paying off debt, by taking a percentage of reserve money above the amount to be held according to county policy.