BOC looks to fee to aid shortfall
The Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) came to a consensus on balancing the 2017 fiscal year budget Thursday night.
The BOC will do so by charging a $50 fee for those who use of the county’s convenience centers through January, at which point the centers will close. In the six months of the fiscal year leading up to the closure of the 11 centers, the hour of operation and number of centers open will decrease.
The plan will help fund a $2.1 million shortfall in the budget — if all county departments meet fiscal year 2016 numbers — and buy time until more information can be garnered about solid waste. The BOC submitted a request for qualification/proposals (RFQ/P) in order to learn from qualified applicants the best way to run the county’s solid waste stream. Six RFQ/Ps have since come in and the SWA will review them soon.
Before those proposals can be reviewed though, the budget needed to be balanced. With around $2 million being needed to be found to avoid the county taking out a loan,
and around $2 million being lost by the county’s convenience centers, solid waste was an area of focus for the county.
“With that being said I’m looking at a date of January 1 … we’ll be shutting down the [convenience] centers,” said District 2 Commissioner Lanier Sims. “If an outside company, or one of the proposals had the magic bullet, had the answer, then they would have to bill the citizens directly, because at that point we can’t do anything.”
Sims was referring to the fact that the county would not be able to tax the citizens after it approves the 2017 budget without raising the millage rate — something most all of the commissioners wanted to avoid Tuesday night. With that in mind, the BOC discussed several options for balancing the budget, including reducing appropriations and closing the centers.
The county currently collects a millage of 12.99 — not including collection for the board of education — and briefly heard from County Manager Lloyd Kerr about increasing it to 13.99. That idea was brushed off, and the board circled around utilizing savings in the solid waste departments.
Toward the end of the work session, Sims put his plan on the table, laying out the math. He proposed reducing the current deficit of $1,994,360 by $755,000 by closing the convenience centers for six months at the end of the fiscal year. Prior to that, Sims proposed saving $129,744 by reducing hours to bring the deficit down to $1,089,000. From there, he told the board, the rest of the money would be raised by a fee of $50 to an anticipated 20,000 users between now and Jan. 1. He also suggested suspending all capital expenditures, excepting emergencies, for the first six months of the fiscal year.
Sims had one concern, he said, which was the county’s inability to collect a fee for the convenience centers. Last year, the BOC proposed a fee for the centers, which was expected to bring in $1 million of revenue. That fee never materialized.
“The only concern I have with it is in our ability to collect that fee and how we’re going to collect that fee,” Sims said. “We fell on our faces last year.”
The BOC didn’t come up with a definitive way to collect the fee, but tasked Kerr to gather his administrative staff to find out what the best way would be.
“I think the plan just put out is close to what we need to do frankly,” Douglas said after the board learned of Sims plan. “In a nutshell, I think Commissioner Sims has about got it.”
The BOC could not be certain on the amount of people who would participate in using the convenience centers for a fee, but acknowledged that any additional curbside pickup that may occur would lead to increased revenues in the county landfill’s tipping fee collection.
The plan to charge a fee for six months, reduce the hours and then close the centers in January — with information from RFQ/Ps coming — was agreed to by consensus, with District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson disagreeing with the plan.
What will happen when the centers close is still being discussed, but the BOC was leaning toward mandatory curb side pickup.
The county will hold three public hearings — 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on July 25 and another on Aug. 1 during the BOC meeting— on the proposed fiscal year 2017 budget before voting it into the record Aug. 1.