Rural Georgia has faced many hardships since the economic downturn of 2008 and like many other rural communities in Georgia, Camden County has not been immune to the slow economic recovery.
This past Thursday ( June 1, 2017) during a FY18 budget work session, the Camden County Board of Commissioners reviewed the proposed budget which has declining fund balance. The budget is expected to include high priority new Action Items that align to the county’s Vision 2032 strategic plan.
The proposed budget funds to include a total $50,641,423 with revenues and expenses balances with no proposed increases in the millage rate or non-general fund fees attributed to curbside solid waste and recyclable collection services.
At the end of 2014, Camden County’s fund balance was about $7.7 million and now this year’s (FY18) fund balance is expected to be much lower with a fund balance of $2.7 million. The county government is citing increases in businesses in the nearby greater Jacksonville, FL area which has contributed to depleting of sales tax revenues along with health insurance costs to meet the Affordable Health Care Act (commonly known as ObamaCare) mandates.
Other variables include major expenses being maintained from previous years while the revenues decline, salary increases for public safety officers, utility increases, worker’s compensation claims, and the Spaceport Project’s initial costs.
In addition to the declining fund balance, the tax digest has declined in the local economy despite other economic growth in other parts of the state, which has mainly been in the Atlanta metro-area. Many rural areas have also had similar tax digest declines in the state.
Another variable not discussed in the budget work session, which has had long-term effects on the fund balance, are the property tax freezes that date back to 2007. In 2006, former State Senator Jeff Chapman passed local legislation which was signed into law, that froze home values used in calculating the property taxes owners pay to the county and school district.
For FY18, as a result of the 10-year property tax freeze, $875,000 will not be part of the county’s tax digest according to County Finance Director, Mike Fender. Since 2007, the property tax freeze totals about $157,000,000. These numbers are assuming that homes are at 100 percent of their value.
Currently, the cities do not participate in the freeze and it is not part of the cities digest; however, the County is participating in the freeze. The tax assessor keeps two sets of books based on where someone lives within the County.
Some possible solutions were presented to the Camden Co. Board of Commissioners to help offset the impact of the declining fund balance. The following solutions were as follows:
To date, the initial cost of the Spaceport is over $3.8 million and the county plans to add an additional $1.4 million to the FY18 budget for Spaceport. With the additional proposed $1.4 million, the Spaceport project would make up 3.6 percent of the general fund and 1.99 percent of the entire county’s proposed FY18 budget.
Costs of Spaceport To Date – Information provided by Camden County Government
Some citizens, such as Steve Weinkle, have voiced concerns that the county wants to borrow a $5 million-dollar loan to create a short-term correction to the decline in the fund balance. Weinkle states that the county is now discussing a $25 million general obligation bond to fund future Spaceport projects. Weinkle reminds commissioners that the taxpayers will be responsible for these bond payments as general obligation bonds are paid by local tax revenues which are currently in decline.
However, the county is also considering a $5 million dollar line-of-credit. According to a previous budget work session, Commissioner Gary Blount, a certified public accountant by trade, recommends that a $5 million dollar line of credit may be helpful as opposed to a $25 million-dollar bond as bonds tend to be more expensive overall. Using the $5 million-dollar line of credit would ensure the county’s ability to evaluate the Spaceport project after the completion of the federal government’s Environmental Impact Study sometime this year.
Military Liaison Position –
During this work session, the county added an additional $150,000 dollars to the proposed FY18 budget to the Joint Development Authority – that will have to be voted on for approval by the Board of Commissioners. Citizens and community leaders opposed the cutting of the military liaison position and asked the county to amend their budget to include funding for this position (click on the previous hyperlinked wording to view that report).
The Camden County Board of Commissioners are expected to vote on all proposals to the FY18 budget on June 20, 2017.