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How Forsyth County officials are starting the budget process amid COVID-19 concerns
FCN Forsyth County Administration Building

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Forsyth County officials aren't planning any drastic measures due to the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic but said upcoming projects could be affected.

County Manager Eric Johnson said the county is planning for a recession as leaders begin the annual budgeting process but they aren't looking at laying off employees, raising taxes or cutting services in the future.

“The interesting thing at this point is that we know there will be an impact, but we don't yet know how great it will be, and I think everybody is in the same boat,” Johnson said. “What you look at is what revenues are susceptible and less susceptible.“

Johnson said on the revenue side, sales taxes, which come in quarterly, would be more impacted in the short-term than property taxes, which were determined nearly a year and a half ago and any current impacts wouldn't be felt until the 2022 budget.

“Right now, we haven't seen any reduction in sales tax, but we anticipate seeing it,” he said.  “As some people lose their jobs, obviously, they'll be cutting back and focusing on priorities like food. You're going to see some areas of the economy drop off, but that hasn't really shown up yet.”

While it's too early to know what the impact on the budget will look like at that time, Johnson said one positive to more people staying at home versus going out of the county to shop were that sales taxes for online purchases would be coming back to Forsyth.

“One thing that helps us from a revenue standpoint is that Georgia has taxation on internet sales, and a lot of states don't,” Johnson said. “So, when people went to buy stuff from Amazon as opposed to buying from local businesses, well Amazon is collecting our sales taxes, and it goes back to the local and state government.”

Johnson said the county's biggest expenditure each year is payroll, which, other than not hiring some seasonal employees has not been impacted by the outbreak, but Johnson said there have been some other costs.

“We do have some costs associated with the coronavirus,” he said. “We're spending more on personal protective equipment and we're probably going to be spending some money installing, just as a lot of the stores that have been open are doing, putting in plexiglass panels when we start to reopen facilities so that we're safe and so are our customers.”

Like any other year, this is the time when county officials start going over the coming year's budget, and Johnson said he has already had preliminary meetings with department heads and the finance committee will soon start meeting to discuss the budget before bringing it to the board of commissioners.

Johnson said the county was not looking to raise taxes, cut pay or positions or limit services going into next year but the budget would likely still be impacted by the disease.

“Probably the biggest impact that we're going to see is we'll be cautious about adding things into next year's budget until we have a better picture of what revenue will look like, and we'll probably carry over less money at the end of this year than we usually would,” Johnson said.

“Typically, we're pretty conservative in budgeting, so some of what we don't spend is able to be carried over and invested the following year in fixing up facilities and replacing vehicles, so if there's a place where we take a hit this year, it's going to be we won't carry over as much money that would be available next year for those sorts of things.”

Johnson, a former federal economist said even before the coronavirus, he had been expecting a recession, which he believed would be the result of a trade war, but thought Forsyth would come out better other communities.

“Forsyth County came through the last recession better than the state on average,” he said, “so we would anticipate the same this time.”