CUTS

The Covington News - - Front page -

of­fi­cially adopt the 10.9 roll­back rate un­til the July 6 BOC meet­ing be­cause the bud­get now has to be read­ver­tised in The News for a min­i­mum of 14 days.

Ewing and Flem­ing both expressed sup­port for the 9.73 mill­age rate bud­get which would have been $43.5 mil­lion.

By choos­ing the $46.3 mil­lion bud­get, the board avoided cut­ting an ad­di­tional 46 em­ploy­ees, the vast ma­jor­ity of whom would have come from pub­lic safety, Mor­gan said af­ter Tues­day’s meet­ing.

She es­ti­mated that about 22 law en­force­ment per­son­nel will be cut, as op­posed to the nearly 60 po­si­tions that could have been cut un­der the 9.73 bud­get. The sher­iff’s of­fice, court sys­tem and tax com­mis­sioner’s of­fice will all see 5 per­cent re­duc­tions from last year’s bud­gets, in­stead of the 14 per­cent re­duc­tions orig­i­nally planned for them.

Brown said Thurs­day he has not yet made any cuts, and is go­ing through bud­get line by line again be­fore mak­ing any rushed de­ci­sions. Tax Com­mis­sioner Bar­bara Din­gler said had to cut one em­ployee.

“I’m pleased they went with the 10.9 rate, but I wish they could have gone higher,” said Din­gler, who re­peat­edly pleaded for the BOC to raise the mill­age rate. “It’s a sad day in the county. They’re dis­miss­ing peo­ple as we speak.”

Dur­ing Tues­day’s bud­get pub­lic hear­ing, Din­gler said be­tween 94 per­cent and 98 per­cent of res­i­dent’s prop­erty val­ues went down and many will see a re­duc­tion even with the county roll­back rate and the county at 20 mills. She said at most res­i­dents would pay an ex­tra $40 to $60 per year.

How­ever, Hunter Hall, pres­i­dent of the Cov­ing­tonNew­ton County Cham­ber of Com­merce, said rais­ing taxes could neg­a­tively af­fect busi­nesses and pro­long the re­ces­sion lo­cally. Long-time in­dus­trial de­vel­oper Jerry Silvio said the tax rate was a fac­tor in in­dus­try’s de­ci­sions about where to lo­cate.

Be­fore the board made their fi­nal de­ci­sion, they first en­tered into about an hour and a half ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion in Mor­gan’s of­fice to dis­cuss per­son­nel and lit­i­ga­tion. The tan uni­forms of sev­eral sher­iffs’ deputies in­ter­min­gled with the more than a hun­dred county res­i­dents, em­ploy­ees and depart­ment heads gath­ered in the His­toric Courthouse, wait­ing to dis­cover their fu­tures and those of their friends, as storms raged out­side.

When the com­mis­sion­ers re­turned at 9:20 p.m., com­mis­sion­ers gave their fi­nal thoughts. Ewing and Flem­ing sided with the busi­ness lead­ers and said they felt that rais­ing the mill­age rate would force busi­nesses and in­dus­tries to cut jobs, and they didn’t want to spare county jobs at the ex­pense of pri­vate sec­tor po­si­tions.

Flem­ing said if the county raised its rate, that would just add to the bur­den place on fam­i­lies and busi­nesses that would al­ready be fac­ing a 1.79 mill in­crease from the schools and a pos­si­ble 4 mill in­crease in Por­terdale.

“That is a sub­stan­tial tax in­crease for the home­own­ers in that part of the district, in that part of the county, and the busi­ness own­ers, (which) none of them can af­ford at this time,” Flem­ing said.

Com­mis­sion­ers J.C. Hen­der­son, Nancy Schulz and Earnest Sim­mons voted in fa­vor of the roll­back bud­get, and all three said they couldn’t sup­port cut­ting pub­lic safety any fur­ther.

“I am a small busi­ness owner and un­der­stand the im­pact to small busi­ness and our busi­ness com­mu­nity,” Schulz said. “My great­est con­cern is that I rep­re­sent a district, as you can see the num­bers from the sher­iff’s depart­ment, that has a con­sid­er­able amount of crime re­lated statis­tics and I can­not see that as a busi­ness we are ben­e­fited by putting our cit­i­zens at risk for their safety nor our busi­ness at risk as well.”

The con­ver­sa­tion be­came tense and heated. Ewing said he was concerned by the per­sonal attacks and emo­tion that had been in­jected into the bud­get process, and Flem­ing expressed dis­ap­point­ment at the scare tac­tics by county em­ploy­ees and other county of­fi­cials when sup­port­ing the roll­back rate. He said rais­ing taxes was tak­ing the easy way.

How­ever, Sim­mons de­nounced the com­ments, say­ing that he doesn’t like to raise taxes, but his home had been bro­ken into twice dur­ing his term in of­fice.

“That’s not the first thing we do is raise taxes. Be hon­est with your­self. Don’t worry about be­ing re­elected. If you don’t want to elect me again that’s your choice, but I’m go­ing to tell you the truth,” Sim­mons said, and sev­eral em­ploy­ees burst into ap­plause.

In ad­di­tion to re­duc­ing the cuts to law en­force­ment and the courts, Mor­gan said the bud­get also in­cludes money to open up the new Porter Me­mo­rial Branch Li­brary, when­ever con­struc­tion is com­pleted. Orig­i­nally, the li­brary was go­ing to be left closed for all of FY2011 in or­der to save ap­prox­i­mately $300,000; con­struc­tion is ex­pected to be com­pleted around Jan­uary 2011.

How­ever, the cuts to pub­lic works are even greater than pre­vi­ously ex­pected at 17 per­cent, or an ex­tra $300,000 re­duc­tion.

Over­all, the newly ap­proved bud­get cuts nearly $2 mil­lion from last year's $48 mil­lion bud­get. The cuts were ne­ces­si­tated by con­tin­u­ing prop­erty de­val­u­a­tions. The county tax as­ses­sor’s of­fice pre­vi­ously pre­sented a fi­nal­ized tax di­gest of $2.36 bil­lion to lo­cal gov­ern­ments, down $21 mil­lion from last year’s tax di­gest. In rev­enue num­bers, the county is pro­ject­ing to col­lect $1.89 mil­lion less in to­tal prop­erty taxes than last year based on the 10.9 mill­age rate.

Mor­gan said the board is still con­sid­er­ing whether it wants to take over op­er­a­tion of its re­cy­cling cen­ters and lawn care. The county could save as many 21 jobs and about $425,000, by re­al­lo­cat­ing em­ploy­ees to those po­si­tions and re­duc­ing their wages; the biggest sav­ings would come from avoid­ing un­em­ploy­ment pay­ments.

Mor­gan said she will pro­vide a break­down of the num­ber of em­ploy­ees cut per depart­ment once all em­ploy­ees have been no­ti­fied. To see the bud­get doc­u­ments given to the com­mis­sion­ers visit cov­news.com

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