By REBECCA HAZEN
The Dade County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing Thursday, June 17, to review the proposed fiscal year 2022 budget.
The meeting was attended by community members who represented various county departments.
The 48-page budget summary can be found on Dade County’s website, dadecounty-ga.gov.
Don Townsend, Dade County Clerk and Finance Officer, said that the current 2021 budget is $12.2 million. The proposed 2022 budget is $13.2 million.
There were three large increases, which included $160,000 for insurance. An extra $800,000 is a FEMA grant, a direct offset for the construction of storm shelters. There is also a $300,000 increase for the EMS CHI Memorial ambulance contract.
“Those things are the three big things causing the budget to go up. FEMA is a one-time thing. It will go away next year. EMS will go down next year a little bit. Will something else pop up? I have no idea,” Townsend said.
Multiple departments asked for an increase in salaries, citing a desire to keep employees in the county.
Kevin Baugh, Chief Assistant District Attorney with the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, asked for a budget increase.
“These are requests based on needs, not wants,” Baugh said. “The first area we are asking for an increase is salary for the attorneys.”
Baugh also asked for pay supplements for certain staff and assistant district attorneys.
“Within the last year, we have lost three attorneys, one to a neighboring circuit, that offers a supplement,” Baugh said.
Baugh also mentioned the need to have someone assigned full-time to handle appeals, and a budget increase in order to update social media platforms.
Jad Johnson, public defender for the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, noted that they have lost employees as well.
“Mr. Baugh noted that they had three people go to other jobs. His office has actually poached two of my people over the past 16 months. Both of those individuals received higher salaries at the DA’s office,” Johnson said. “Mr. Baugh and the DA’s office would like to have more money for their people, we also would like to have more money to keep up.”
Lecia Eubanks, director of the Cherokee Regional Library System, asked for an increase for a youth education coordinator position.
“In this county, the library is funded by the local taxing dollars. We get very little state money. The state does fund the regional library that supports our libraries. We rely on the county, the city of Trenton, and the school board. We have reached out to the school board this year for an increase and a small increase from you,” Eubanks said.
The Dade County Library would like to have a youth education coordinator with benefits, at full-time status. Currently the library is open 34 hours a week, and Eubanks would like to see the library open for 40 hours.
Barry Irwin, with the Dade County Sheriff’s Office asked for multiple increases.
“First off, thank you for all you have done for us. We are asking for some increases, most of these things are completely out of our control, group insurance, payroll, taxes, repair and maintenance,” Irwin said. “What we are fighting is a loss of quality, trained people. They leave to go places that make more money. I want to try to keep those people so they can support their families and have a career.”
George Williams, chair of Alliance for Dade, requested the county to partially fund an executive director.
“Right now many of our volunteers are busy developing the expo, business directory, promoting the sports complex, networking events, managing a website and installing signage around the area. We’re planning holiday events to bring more visitors. But there is much more to be done, and we can only expect so much from volunteers,” Williams.
Williams asked for a base of $10,000, and for an additional amount to match membership up to a maximum of $15,000.
County Executive Ted Rumley noted that, with any amount of money given, commissioners would need a contract agreement because the Alliance for Dade is not a government entity.
Some community members did not ask for any increases, but still spoke before the Board of Commissioners.
Kathy Johnson, director of Dade County Division of Family and Children Services, thanked the commissioners for all the support.
“The majority of our budget goes to helping our families, if they need a couple of nights in a hotel, or gas to get to medical appointments. Our foster kids and families are very appreciative. It’s put to good use, it’s for the kids and families to try and maintain the children here in Dade County,” Johnson said.
Carolyn Bradford, Juvenile Court Administrator, noted that the Juvenile Court budget is staying the same.
“Our budget is staying the same, and we are under budget right now. We had a year that was very different so I don’t know how it’s going to go next year. I expect some numbers to increase,” Bradford said.
Sarah Dyer, UGA Extension Agent, noted that the 2022 budget was staying the same.
“We were able to stay under budget this year and I think we can manage it next year … as we build our programs, and as we build toward having more events at the ag center, there are a few things I think we could use. We’ve had some problems with our bathrooms recently, some more facility type stuff, but that could be discussed in terms of SPLOST,” Dyer said.
“This says proposed,” County Executive Ted Rumley said about the budget document at the end of the public hearing. “This can change, and it will. We have a lot of things to look at before we finalize this.”