County Commission Budget

The Chatham County deficit of more than $11 million has been making headlines for months, and commissioners are hoping to make it old news. They will vote on a new budget tomorrow. There are two proposals on the table, either of which would likely affect you if you have taxable property in Chatham County.

Chairman Billy Hair has one proposal, and a group of five commissioners submitted a second proposal. Both reduce spending and eliminate numerous vacant county positions, but there are some major differences when it comes to eliminating the deficit.

Hair's calls for a tax increase.

"If we pass this very slight millage increase," he said, "the millage will still be substantially lower than what is was six years ago."

The other proposal does not. "We're holding some departments back to last year's levels, which is a responsible thing to do," said District 1's Jeff Rayno.

But it's really not that simple. In the final rounds of this fight, the county staff found some discrepancies in the five commissioners' proposal.

After reviewing the proposal, staff said in a memo, "These savings are very questionable as they are based on June 30, 2002, expenditures that are incomplete and unaudited." The commissioners say those problems are being solved.

"Currently everything is looking better and staff is crunching numbers right now," said Commissioner Dean Kicklighter.

Hair says his budget avoids any problems. "My budget will not generate any lawsuits, because we don't make any unrealistic cuts in certain departments."

The five commissioners are saying the same thing, and right now the only way Hair's proposal will pass is if he swings a vote.

The county will vote on the budget at 9am tomorrow morning at the old courthouse on Bull Street. We'll let you know what happens.

Reported by: Kim Angelastro