Elbert County Commissioners to Consider Proposed 2020 Budget

On October 15, County Manager Sam Albrecht delivered his proposed 2020 budget to County Commissioners Richardson, Thayer, and Pettitt. Since late last spring, Sam has worked closely with Elbert County's department heads, elected officials and Finance Department staff to analyze, discuss, and prioritize Elbert County's budget needs. The County Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget on Wednesday, November 13, 2019 to hear citizens' input, and expect to adopt a final budget in December.

Early in 2019, Commissioners provided staff with guidance on what they expected to see in the 2020 budget, and management staff held a budget kickoff meeting in early July. Using data from regular financial reports, which showed revenue and expense projections and variances from 2019 budget expectations, each department developed their preliminary 2020 budget requests. These requests included regular operational expenses, new or changed positions, new equipment, facilities improvements and special projects. During August and September, Sam met with Elected Officials and Directors to discuss and better understand their 2020 budget requests and priorities. On September 18, Commissioners met in a work study session, which was open to the public, to review the preliminary results of the budget process.

Some highlights of the proposed 2020 budget include funding for a full compensation study; funding to begin addressing an estimated $2.5 million in deferred maintenance on County facilities; use of developer impact fees and state grants for projects that help plan for growth; and a few new positions to address critical staffing gaps, especially in the County jail. Unfortunately, the proposed budget could not include over 22 other new positions requested by departments throughout the County.

Between the Commissioners' budget goals and the County's 2018-2027 strategic plan, County staff had plenty of guidance to help them determine which projects were priorities. In particular, the proposed budget maintains the balance in the stabilization fund that Commissioners established in 2018 to cushion the County from future emergency needs or an economic downturn. It also includes 2% of payroll for performance-related salary increases for County employees, and an increase to the amount that County employees receive to cover benefit costs - medical insurance premiums for County employees increased by about 6% for 2020.

As many citizens know, most Elbert County Government employees (except those in the Sheriff's Office) work a 36-hour, 4-day week. This practice began after the last economic downturn, when local government budgets were hit hard by the drop in property values - the 10% budget cut helped Elbert County ride out the recovery. In the years since then, Elbert County staff have evaluated whether it is prudent to make the move back to a 40-hour week to accommodate citizens' needs. Cons include a 10% increase in overall County payroll, an amount that would equal nearly $1 million in 2020. The family-friendly 4-day week is also a big recruitment and retention tool for County staff.

When it comes to capital investment, the proposed 2020 budget focuses on facilities and roads, with $500,000 set aside from the Stabilization Fund balance for one-time costs to address deferred maintenance on County buildings and to complete critical building repairs, and a new bridge assessment and Road & Bridge Capital Improvement Plan in place to help guide future investment.