County Budget Finalized

Commissioners meet today to finalize the budget.

Chatham County has been dealing with a major budget dilemma for the past year, facing a more than $11 million deficit. Today some commissioners say it's over: a new balanced budget was approved, but not without some controversy.
Chatham County residents will not see a tax increase this year. There were two proposals on the table: Billy Hair submitted one which called for a slight tax increase, and the second proposal was submitted by a group of five commissioner with no increase. Commissioners who voted against the winning proposal say it's just asking for problems in the year to come.
Commissioner Rayno read the details of a budget proposal prepared by five county commissioners, and about a half hour later it passed.
District 7 commissioner Dean Kicklighter said, "We faced a budget disaster this year, and we were able to pass a budget that won't increase homeowners taxes."
While the proposal keeps taxes at the same rate, and gives Chatham County employees a 1.5 percent raise, opponents say that some numbers in this new budget pose a taxing problem.
"When you start using revenue that won't reoccur, then you have problems," said District 2's Joe Murray Rivers.
There are also funds in the budget which come from the school board tax collection fee.
"To balance this budget," Hair said, "they used the million dollars from the school board that's under appeal from the supreme court, and we could lose that and it could come back to haunt us."
And staff has also advised that the numbers used are unaudited and some of the expected savings may not be there.
"I just want to warn, next year we'll be back in the same spot," said Rivers.
But the five commissioners who made the proposal are optimistic and say it will work out.
"There's no such thing as a perfect budget," said Kicklighter, "but we presented and passed a great budget. We'll continue to work through the year to make cuts in other areas."
There will be cuts in vacant county positions--right now there is no definite number--and, until the county manager goes over just which positions will be cut, the hiring freeze will remain in place.

Reported by: Kim Angelastro